Slick Leonard – Hall of Famer at last

I unfortunately didn’t know Bobby ‘Slick’ Leonard – the player, or coach. As a young twentysomething, my first knowledge of him came on the airwaves, hearing him shout “Boom, Baby!” after any Pacer drilled a 3-pointer in the early 1990s. That’s how those in my era and beyond know of him.

But I quickly learned there’s much, much more.

Slick Leonard coached the Pacers from 1968-80.

Leonard finally gets his due this weekend in Springfield, Massachuseets as he’s enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV). Those much older and wiser than me sternly believe it’s 20 years too late. For me, I’ve been helping to push the Campaign For Slick over the last half dozen years now. His resume speaks for itself, so no need to detail it.

Spending more than a decade with the Pacers franchise, seeing the ins and outs behind the scenes, I would’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience back then.

“We were all family,” said Bill York, the Pacers’ longtime statistics crew director and close friend of the Leonards.

The stories are fascinating. What it was like, how they traveled, the relationships, and the game environment. (Note: the in-game smoke would’ve killed me!) Fortunately, there are many still involved with the team today, including Slick, York, team doctors and other statisticians.

“He’s Mr. Pacer,” Larry Bird said on the Ted Green film, “Heart of a Hoosier,” which documents Leonard’s interesting life.

And Bird is right. Without Slick and his wife Nancy, it’s hard to vision the Pacers still residing in Indianapolis and being such an integral part of the Indy sports culture as they are today. He has 529 career wins, three ABA championships, and has been a part of the franchise nearly the entire time since it was founded in 1967. He even turned down his dream job of coaching at his alma mater, Indiana University, not once but twice. He found his calling with the Pacers, and it’s his second family.

Leonard smiles big as he’s presented with his Hall of Fame jacket.

Leonard is a friendly man, one who makes you feel very comfortable around him right away. He has no ego, a rarity today in sports. He’s so humble, and wished to see his players go into the Hall of Fame before him. Mel Daniels was voted in in 2012, the late Roger Brown last year, and finally, it’s Slick’s time.

Thursday, he received his Hall of Fame jacket from president John Doleva. Tonight he’ll be enshrined in the Hall, presented by Bird and Daniels. Best of all, his entire family is in Springfield with him to celebrate. Nancy made sure of it.

Indiana is blessed to have the Leonards for what they have done — and continue to do for the franchise.

Now’s your time, Slick.

Boom, Baby!

List of those expected in Springfield celebrate with Slick:

  • Nancy Leonard (and family) – Slick’s wife of 60 years
  • Larry Bird – Pacers President
  • Donnie Walsh – Pacers Consultant
  • Mel Daniels – Slick’s Hall of Fame ABA player
  • George McGinnis – played for Slick from 1971-75
  • Jeannie Brown – widow of Hall of Famer Roger Brown
  • Frank Coach – Pacers head coach
  • Dan Burke – Pacers assistant coach since 1997
  • Jimmy Powell – Pacers advance scout
  • Dr. John Abrams – Team Ophthalmologist
  • Mark Boyle – the play-by-play radio voice of the Pacers, Slick’s partner
  • David Benner – Pacers Director of Media Relations
  • Bill Benner – Pacers Sr. Vice President/Corporate/Community & Public Relations
  • Ted Green – emmy-award winning filmmaker, including “Heart of a Hoosier.”
  • Matt Hayden – longtime Pacers ball boy

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