On Tuesday, the Indiana Pacers announced that the man who led them to three ABA Championships during a Hall of Fame coaching career and was selected as an NBA All-Star in 1963 was deceased. No details about the 88-year-old Leonard have been provided, but his health has been failing in recent years.
“He was the tallest,” McGinnis said in March. “He loved all of his guys and, yes, he had his days. If you got on the wrong side of him, it wasn’t going to be a good deal for you. “
But, McGinnis added, there was a big difference between Leonard and Indiana Hoosiers coach Bob Knight: after Leonard tore you up and “run out of you, he would take you out for a beer and say ‘You know I love you, I ”I’m doing this for your own good. ”
Leonard became one of Indiana’s basketball heirs.
Yes, he went 573-534 in 14 seasons as a coach, winning 529 in 12 seasons with the Pacers.
But the legacy went much further.
Terre Haute High School tennis star Gerstmeyer has chosen to play basketball at nearby Indiana University. He ended up leading the Hoosiers to two Big Ten titles, was a two-time All-American, and landed winning free throws to give Indiana the 1953 National Championship.
Decades later, he was selected as one of the 50 greatest players in school history and was part of the Hoosiers’ entire century squad.
“He was as important as anyone in Indiana state when it came to basketball,” said new Indiana coach Mike Woodson. “He played the game with a lot of flair. He coached with undeniable passion.
“His smile put everyone at ease. The man was a champion through and through, whether with the Pacers organization or at Indiana University. Without a doubt, he was a Hall of Fame human. “
After serving in the U.S. Army in the mid-1950s, Leonard played professionally for seven years with the Minneapolis / Los Angeles Lakers and was named NBA All-Star in 1963.
But his greatest moments as a professional came with the fledgling franchise that hired him in 1968-69 and worked with for over half a century.
“Pacers fans will remember Bobby ‘Slick’ Leonard as the spirit of our franchise,” Team owner Herb Simon said in a statement. “With charisma, intensity and a spirit that lived up to his nickname, Slick made us champions.
“He was our biggest fan and our most loving critic, and he embodied Pacers basketball for generations of Hoosier families. Most importantly, Slick and (his wife) Nancy are our family, and his passing leaves an insurmountable void in the hearts of everyone associated with this organization. “
Leonard took the Pacers to the ABA Finals in his first season – and four more times in the next six years, winning titles in 1969-70, 1971-72 and 1972-73.
“He was the best coach I played for on the last shot, in pressure situations,” said McGinnis. “In the seventh game, he would change the whole offense. It was genius. I think that’s why if you look at the Pacers, they won all three championships, I believe, in seventh road games. “
Leonard also did more than win.
In 1977, the popular Leonard and his wife helped organize a telethon that saved a franchise facing financial problems after its transition from the ABA to the NBA.
He was fired after the 1979-80 season, failing to win the Pacers’ first four NBA seasons.
But he reappeared as a color commentator on the Pacers TV shows in 1985. Later he moved to the radio booth where the straightforward, talking narrator Leonard coined his signature phrase “Boom, Baby!” Every time Pacers players have scored 3 points.
Leonard was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and the Indiana Sports Writers and Broadcasters Hall of Fame and was the first person inducted into the Indiana University Sports Hall of Fame. .
His win total with the Pacers, 529, hangs from a banner in the rafters of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Governor Eric Holcomb called him “the embodiment of basketball” and “the icon of Indiana”.
“His presence in the arena and in our state will be deeply missed,” he said in a statement. “You can’t find anyone who doesn’t like Slick. “
Leonard is survived by his wife, their five children, 12 grandchildren and six grandchildren.