INDIANAPOLIS — With the passing of Bobby “Slick” Leonard, Hoosiers all around the state of Indiana may remember him for many different things.
He helps create the Indiana Pacers, coached them to three ABA championships, saved them from folding with a TV telethon with his wife Nancy, and helped tell the stories of the team on the radio as a color analyst.
But, the most synonymous memory of Slick that most Hoosiers seem to go to upon Slick’s memory entering their mind is most like two words: Boom Baby!
It’s the catchphrase Slick would say, yell, or scream after every made three-pointer by the Pacers while on the radio with play-by-play guy Mark Boyle always teeing him up for it every time.
However, many people may not know that the story of “Boom Baby!” goes back to before Slick’s time on the radio. It goes back to when he was still the head coach of the Pacers.
According to Billy Keller and George McGinnis, both of whom played for the Pacers under Leonard in the early ’70s, it goes back to Game Five of the 1973 ABA Western Division Semifinals between the Pacers and the Denver Rockets (now the Denver Nuggets).
“The game was close and Slick called a timeout,” Keller remembered. “Slick set up a play for George (McGinnis). And what we were going to do was get the ball to George and let George do his thing.”
But Keller said the strategy immediately broke down when the Rockets players swarmed McGinnis off the in-bound.
“The play never developed,” added McGinnis. “We had about eight seconds to go. Billy was just kind of floating over there in the corner, and Billy gets the ball and he’s behind the line and he just let it go.”
“They swarmed George off the in-bound and that kind of left me open on the right base-line in the corner,” Keller continued. “George kicked it to me because he was so contested. I let it fly and the shot went in.”
“He (Keller) hit that thing and Slick got up and yelled ‘BOOM BABY!’,” McGinnis said.
That shot would propel the Pacers onto the next round of the ABA playoffs and eventually their third and final ABA championship.
The catchphrase would stick with Leonard throughout the rest of his life and became synonymous with who he was to people in Indiana.
Billy Keller on his memory of the first time Slick Leonard yelled “Boom Baby!”:
George McGinnis on his memory of the first time Slick Leonard yelled “Boom Baby!”: