INDIANAPOLIS–Bobby “Slick” Leonard has died. Leonard was one of the most beloved names in basketball in Indiana, having coached the Indiana Pacers from 1968 to 1980, and having served as the color commentator on radio broadcasts for the team. Leonard was 88.
Born in Terre Haute in 1932, Leonard excelled at both basketball and tennis at Gerstmeyer High School. He played for Indiana University, scoring the winning shot in the 1953 NCAA tournament.
LISTEN: Remembering “Slick” Leonard
“By the time I got to be a sophomore I was 5 ft. 10, and I was playing on the B team,” said Leonard in a 2017 interview. “Between my sophomore and junior year I grew 6 ft. three and a half. The first ten games I was averaging 35 points a game.”
He then moved on to the NBA, where he played for the Minneapolis and L.A. Lakers. He then played for the Chicago Zephyrs and began coaching them, following the team with their move to Baltimore.
“I went from being a player to a head coach in the NBA. For many years I was the youngest coach ever,” he said, qualifying that with “head coach”.
A STATEMENT FROM THE SIMON FAMILY, OWNERS OF THE PACERS: “Pacers fans will remember Bobby ‘Slick’ Leonard as the spirit of our franchise. With a charisma, intensity, and wit to match his nickname, Slick made us champions. He was our biggest fan and our most loving critic, and he personified Pacers basketball for generations of Hoosier families. Most importantly, though, Slick and Nancy are our family, and his passing leaves an unfillable void in the hearts of everyone associated with this organization. We keep the entire Leonard family in our prayers, and we recognize and honor Slick for what he meant to our state both on and off the court.”
Leonard was not the first coach for the Pacers when the team began as a franchise in the American Basketball Assoc., in 1967.
“So, that first year I was a consultant with the Pacers and we ran a tryout camp,” he recalled. “That’s where we opened it to everybody: high school, college.” Leonard said he put them through the rigors, practicing layups and running laps until some of them vomited. That narrowed down the selections.
He began as head coach for the team in 1968, until he was let go in 1980, following a change in ownership and direction.
In 1985, he was asked to join the television and then radio broadcast teams, coining the term “Boom Baby!”, which he shouted after every three-pointer. Leonard continued in that role through the 90s and up until his death, in later years retiring from road games.
Leonard is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and took the Pacers to three ABA championships, in 1970, 72 and 73.
Leonard passed away at his home in Carmel.