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Reaction to Slick's Hall Nod Universal: It's About Time

by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

February 14, 2014

There were loud cries of “BOOM BABY!” Friday afternoon. No, the Pacers weren’t playing. Bobby ‘Slick’ Leonard, a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and had an exceptionally accomplished career, was announced as a direct elect to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

Finally. That was everybody’s first reaction. It wasn’t a matter of whether or not he was deserving, only when he’d get his due. Slick will forever be known now as a Hall of Famer.

His decorated career is well-known and highly-regarded. He won an NCAA Championship under Branch McCracken at Indiana University in 1953 and is still frustrated that they didn’t win back-to-back titles. He then played seven years in the ABA and even served as player-coach in that final year, 1962-63.

Leonard coached the Pacers from 1968 to 1980 and led them to three ABA Championships — 1970, 1972, 1973 — as they were the most dominant team in league history. Five years after getting out of coaching, he joined the Pacers TV broadcast team as an analyst and the Pacers Radio Network as a color commentator, a role he remains in today.

No matter how old you are, basketball fans in Indiana know the booming voice of Slick Leonard and can’t help but smile. Some knew him as a player and coach, while the younger generations recognize him for his honesty and coined phrase, “BOOM BABY!”, after every made 3-pointer.

When it was announced Friday afternoon that Leonard would be inducted into the Hall of Fame this fall, he received nothing but praise.

As Leonard talked with the media late Friday, three of his former players were by his side: Hall of Famer Mel Daniels, Darnell Hillman, and Bob Netolicky. If they weren’t already in Florida, George McGinnis and Billy Keller would have been there as well.

His wife of 60 years this summer, Nancy, sat beside him. She’s the rock in the family and remains an instrumental part of his life. To this day, Leonard and his former players get together at least one a month to hang out, share stories and enjoy each other’s company.

Read their reactions and more below:

Nancy Leonard
“This has to be the culmination of a very exciting career, and he’s handled it very well.”

“I know he’s pleased, he’s just not going to show it. It’s such an honor. The great thing about it is how excited everybody in Indianapolis is and the kids and everybody. They’re just so excited for him.”

Mel Daniels (Hall of Fame 2012)
“It’s long overdue. It’s something that should’ve happened a long time ago. I’m just thankful that it happened now while he’s alive and can enjoy it like the rest of us.”

“He made us understand that this is a family situation and you must be accountable for your job. My job was to play in the middle, run in transition, block shots, rebound the basketball and score when I had the opportunity. I was traded from Minnesota to here, and the first thing he did — I was Rookie of the Year and all that kind of stuff. I got here and I was used to shooting my shot and he came up to me and said, ‘The next time you shoot a shot beyond 15-feet I’m punching your damn nose.’ He made you accountable for your job. It was as simple as that.

“He created a family atmosphere that was legitimate. Today, we all get together at least once a month still. He brought that passion and that dedication to this team. It’s because of Slick. You have to have a leader. ... He showed us the way and what he expected from us as professional basketball players.”

Darnell Hillman
“It’s about time. If there’s going to be a Hall of Fame, this guy certainly should be there. The things that he’s done as a player, as a coach and then as an announcer are unheard of. It shows you what kind of talent he has. He has the ability to read people, especially as a coach. He was able to get out of us the maximum and he couldn’t deal with each of us the same way. He would start with one and may have to change his coaching ways with the other ones. It’s remarkable what he’s done over the years and I’ll say it again, it’s about time.”

“I don’t know that the city now, because of the young age of basketballers that are following the game, truly understand the importance of how big of effect that it is. It says and states a lot for the team. Any young player that’s coming to this franchise, if he’s willing to just take a moment, look at the tradition and history of basketball in this state along with this franchise, he’ll have a big, big wide opening of, ‘Wow, I had no idea. This is an opportunity for me to do something and be a part of something that’s going to be here, not just in five or ten years, but from now on.’”

Bob Netolicky
“It’s great. The only thing I’m angry a little bit about is they tried to put him in just the ABA category. Slick’s done it all—NCAA Championship, played for the Lakers, here, NBA coach. ... I think he’s one of the best coaches, ever.”

“We respected him so much because we knew he was a player. He was hard-nosed, he would do anything for us, but if we crossed him you better watch out. … He demanded the best but he would literally do anything for you. We respected almost like a teammate, which is very unusual.”

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