Bobby "Slick" Leonard, whose love for the game of basketball became inextricable from the sport's place in the state of Indiana, died at age 88, the Pacers announced Tuesday.
"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," the Pacers ownership group said in a statement. "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."
An Indiana native, Leonard followed up an impressive career at Terre Haute Gerstmeyer High School by leading the Indiana Hoosiers to two Big Ten titles and sunk the game-winning free throw to clinch the 1953 NCAA title for the Hoosiers over Kansas. After a stint serving in the U.S. Army, Leonard embarked on a professional career that helped aid the sport's popularity in Indiana.
Leonard was selected in the second round of the 1954 NBA draft by the Baltimore Bullets but spent the majority of his career with the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Packers/Zephyrs. He averaged 9.9 points, 3.3 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game during his seven seasons in the NBA.
Leonard's playing career ended in 1963 only for his coaching career to take off. He led the Indiana Pacers to ABA titles in 1970, 1972 and 1973.
Leonard's success in the ABA didn't exactly carry over after the league merged with the NBA. The Pacers missed the postseason in their first four NBA seasons as the financial burden of putting together a contending roster became too difficult. In 1977, Leonard and his wife, Nancy, hosted a successful telethon to raise money to keep the team in Indianapolis.
"To me, Slick was a real Hoosier, he loved the State and everyone that lives there," Larry Bird said in a statement. "He was a great mentor to me and a friend that everyone should have. Slick will be greatly missed and remembered with respect and admiration forever. My family and I send our sincere condolences to Nancy and the Leonard family."
One of Leonard's final chapters in basketball saw him take to the airwaves to call Pacers games as their long-time radio broadcaster. That made his voice synonymous with the triumphs of Reggie Miller, Mark Jackson, Rik Smits and an Indiana team that produced legendary rivalries with the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference.
Leonard was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014 alongside Alonzo Mourning, Mitch Richmond, Nolan Richardson and David Stern.
Leonard is survived by his wife Nancy, their five children, 12 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.