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Slick Leonard: Indiana Basketball Legend

William Robert “Slick” Leonard was born July 17, 1932 in Terre Haute, Indiana.  He was a standout high school basketball player for Terre Haute Gerstmeyer, and went on to play at Indiana University and in the professional ranks.  Leonard is the former Head Coach of the Indiana Pacers, and is currently the team’s color analyst on the radio broadcast.

Playing Career

Leonard was all-around athlete at Gerstmeyer, and was named as an alternate on the Indiana All-Star team.  He spent his college years in Bloomington, Indiana on the beautiful campus of Indiana University.  While there, Leonard was named a two-time All-American and captained the Hoosiers to the 1953 National Championship.  He was then selected with the first pick in the second round of the 1954 draft by the Minneapolis Lakers of the National Basketball Association (NBA).

 

Leonard played five seasons for the Lakers — four in Minneapolis, and one in Los Angeles — before spending his final two seasons with the Chicago Packers/Zephyrs.  In his last year as a player, Leonard pulled double-duty, acting as the coach of the team along with playing a key role on the court.

He won many awards and accolades over his career, including being named one of Indiana’s “50 Greatest Players,” Leonard’s is also a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, located in New Castle, Indiana.  He was also the first person inducted into the Indiana University Sports Hall of Fame.

Coaching Career

Slick became coach of the Pacers, then a member of the American Basketball Association (ABA), in 1969.  He coached the team for 12 years, eight while the team was still in the ABA, and four when it moved to the NBA.  He’s the winningest coach in the nine year history of the ABA, leading the Pacers to five championship games, winning three of them, and never missing the playoffs.  He was voted the ABA All-Time Coach by member of the national sportswriters and broadcasters association. In total, his 642 victories rank him fourth on the All-Time coaching victories list, and he is one just five individuals to have a banner raised in their honor at Conseco Fieldhouse.

 

As much joy and excitement he brought Indianapolis sports fans during his coaching days, his biggest contribution came off the court.  And benefited more than just those who followed the team.  In 1977, one year after joining the NBA, the Pacers organization found itself in financial trouble, and announced that unless season-ticket sales reached 8,000 by the end of July ’77, the club would be sold to out-of-town buyers and most likely moved out of Indianapolis.  In response, Leonard hosted a 16 1/2 hour telethon to raise awareness and interest, and 10 minutes before the show was set to go off air, they reached the 8,000 mark, saving the team and keeping downtown Indianapolis viable on the national landscape.

Broadcast Career

Leonard hung up his gaudy coaching jacket in 1980, but returned to Indy in 1985 as a color commentator for the Pacers television broadcasts, first on WXIN 59, and then on WTTV4.  Later he joined the team’s radio broadcast on WIBC 1070-AM where he still remains as the analyst alongside Mark Boyle.  Leonard is best known for his emphatic “Boom, Baby!” call after a successful three-point attempt, and his love and dedication to Indianapolis and the Pacers.  He currently lives with his wife Nancy in Carmel, Indiana.