INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Bobby “Slick” Leonard, an Indiana native, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee and the only man to ever lead the Indiana Pacers to a championship, has died at 88, the team has announced.
Leonard, born in Terre Haute in 1932, was captain of the 1953 Indiana University national championship team. He spent two years with the U.S. Army after graduating.
Leonard is one of just six people in Pacers history to have a banner raised in his honor in the rafters of Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The banner honors his 529 victories as coach of the Pacers and his contributions to the game.
He then spent seven years in the NBA, playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers and the Chicago Packers/Zephyrs.
His final season in 1962-63 was spent as a player/coach for the Chicago Zephyrs. The team moved to Baltimore for the 1963-64 season, which Leonard also coached.
Leonard returned to basketball in 1968 as coach of the Indiana Pacers in the ABA.
Leonard and the Pacers would win ABA titles in 1970, 1972 and 1973.
He would continue coaching the team when it moved to the NBA in 1976. Leonard spent a total of 12 seasons coaching the Pacers with his final campaign being the 1979-80 season.
In 1982, Leonard was inducted to the the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and the Indiana University Athletics Hall of Fame. According to his NBA.com biography, he was the first member of the Indiana University Athletics Hall of Fame.
After leaving coaching, Leonard later joined the broadcast team. His signature call of “Boom, baby!” became the most famous words in Indiana Pacers history.
In 2014, he was inducted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Slick and his wife, Nancy, have five children, 12 grandchildren, and six great grandchildren.
“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.”Herb Simon, Steve Simon and the Simon Family, owners of Pacers Sports & Entertainment
“Slick Leonard is an Indiana icon. He was the embodiment of basketball with his wide-ranging career starting with his days as a high school player in Terre Haute, going on to Indiana University to win a college national championship, and then his career with the NBA as a player, coach, broadcaster, and savior of the Indiana Pacers. His presence in the arena and in our state will be deeply missed. You can’t find anyone who doesn’t love Slick.”Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb
“Slick has meant so much to me for such a long time. Take a moment and think about this. He has meant as much as anyone in the state of Indiana when it comes to the game of basketball. He played the game with great flair. He coached with undeniable passion. His smile put everyone at ease. The man was a champion through and through whether it was with the Pacers organization or at Indiana University. Without question, he was a Hall of Fame human being. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his loving wife, Nancy, their children and everyone he touched on a daily basis.”Indiana head men’s basketball coach Mike Woodson
“The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is saddened by the passing of Indiana basketball legend Bobby ‘Slick’ Leonard. Slick’s life story has challenged and continues to inspire children and their grown-ups through interactive programming at the museum. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee is also enshrined in the museum’s Old National Bank Sports Legends Avenue of Champions in the Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience.
“Here is what the legend said upon learning of the bronze sculpture that was erected in his honor, ‘I’ve had a love affair with the fans and people in the state of Indiana for half a century and I wish it could last forever,’ said Leonard. ‘I hope that families get together at this facility and enjoy the sport I love so much. My dream is that it helps shape kids who are wild like I was in my youth, and it gives them direction on a path to fun, fitness and happiness.’
“He may be gone; but his story of ascending through the ranks as a high school standout, college champion, professional ball player, iconic coach and a favorite member of the Pacers broadcast team, is a great testament to what hard work and passion can accomplish. Slick was a hardwood legend and an Indiana treasure.
“’Slick lit up the room when he entered with his big smile and welcoming personality. We are blessed to have known this kind-hearted man who became a basketball legend and we are proud he will continue to touch the lives of children and families as they learn about his story at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis,’ said Dr. Jeffrey H. Patchen, president and CEO, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.
“An All-State guard out of Gerstmeyer Technical High School in Terre Haute, Slick became an All-Big Ten and All-American player with Indiana University. As captain of the Hoosiers, Slick hit the game winning free throw against Kansas in the 1953 National Championship title game. He played professional ball for seven years.
“After Slick finished playing basketball, he found himself back home again in Indiana as coach of the upstart Indiana Pacers. Under his guidance, the Pacers won three ABA championships. He continued his relationship with fans throughout the state of Indiana when he joined the Indiana Pacers radio team in 1985 where he coined the phrase that will live in the hearts of Pacers fans everywhere: ‘Boom, baby!’
“Here is a video link to Slick Leonard’s induction to the Old National Bank Sports Legends Avenue of Champions: https://vimeo.com/childrensmuseum/review/536484932/b2a573197b It includes video of Slick and video of his sculpture.”The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis