Pacers team photo from the 1978-1979 season

Slick's Journey From Terre Haute to the Hall of Fame (Part 2)

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer

Part 2 of a 2-part series on Pacers legend Slick Leonard's basketball career, which began in Terre Haute, Indiana and will lead him into the Hall of Fame Class of 2014. Click here to read Part 1.

Leonard knew how to push buttons off the court, too. Back in the days when teams flew commercial flights and stayed overnight at their hotel following road games, he required his players to gather in the bar afterward. They didn't have to drink alcohol, and they could bring a friend, but they had to be there for awhile to celebrate the win or discuss the loss. If someone failed to show, he bought the first round the next time. Truth be told, some of those road trips bordered on mayhem, producing stories the participants still delight in telling during private moments. But they, too, contributed to the bond.

There was one more crucial ingredient to the unique chemical composition of Leonard's teams: his genuine compassion. He didn't just go after Netolicky with a hockey stick in that locker room in Duluth, he also flew with him to Iowa for his mother's funeral. He didn't just leave Brown home for a road trip to send a message, he also became a father figure for him. That was publicly evident when Leonard wrote a poem that he read at Brown's funeral service in 1997.

“It got to the point sometimes it was like, 'You want me to knock the wall down? Show me where it's at,'” Hillman says. “We were ready to run through a wall for him. He had our backs.” 

Leonard didn't learn how to build that brand of camaraderie from anyone, and it wasn't concocted. Perhaps it was how he filled the emotional vacancies of his childhood. Or maybe it was in his genes. Whatever, it was more a way of life than a strategy.   

“Every player is an individual,” he says. “You have to understand what kind of person they are. And you play to their strengths.

“If you're phoneying up on them, they'll figure you out pretty quick. You've got to let them know you sincerely care about them and their families. There's a time when you need to kick 'em in the butt and a time to hug 'em. We developed a great family here.”

Heart of a Hoosier

The bond in still intact. Leonard sees his players often, and it's like no time has passed when they're together. Netolicky hosted a party shortly after Leonard's Hall of Fame selection, and another for a private premiere of Ted Green's documentary, “Bobby 'Slick' Leonard: Heart of a Hoosier.” There will be another party at the home of team ophthalmologist Dr. John Abrams later this month. 

Related: "Heart of a Hoosier" Tells the Story of Living Legend Slick Leonard

Perhaps the best display of their eternal team unity came after Leonard suffered a heart attack on the team bus following a win over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in March of 2011. He spent five or six days in the hospital back in Indianapolis, where a pacemaker was implanted. His former players didn't leave him alone for long. 

“One day I look up and there's all my guys,” Leonard recalled. “We start telling jokes and my ribs are broke (from the resuscitation effort on the bus in New York). I'm laughing, and it's killing me.”

“They were making so much noise, but they had all the people up there laughing,” Nancy added. “You could hear them all over.”

Leonard's knack for relationships has extended beyond the locker room. He and Nancy created a family atmosphere in the ABA days that ran through the entire franchise, hosting parties after games that included the stat crew, front office employees, referees and even opposing teams. Fans have been made to feel welcome, too. It's telling that he and Nancy have maintained a listed phone number throughout their time in Indianapolis, even when he was at the peak of his fame while coaching the Pacers. They wanted friends from out of town and their children's friends from school to be able to reach the household in that era when people looked up numbers in telephone books or called directory assistance. Even today, 40 years after his final championship, there are nights it seems he knows most of the fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Or at least they feel they know him.

Related: Nancy Leonard: The Driving Force Behind Slick, Pacers 

He still gets autograph requests in the mail from all over the world. Nearly all of them adhere to the protocol of including a self-addressed stamped envelope, but one recent request didn't include postage and had an illegible address. Leonard drove to the post office to see if anyone there could decipher it so he could mail it back at his own expense, but it was hopeless.

***

Bobby Slick Leonard

One of Leonard's proudest accomplishments is his longevity. The heart attack convinced him to limit his broadcasting schedule to home games, but he still outlasted every one of his playing counterparts from the 1950s who held NBA jobs with NBA teams. Hot Rod Hundley, his roommate with the Lakers, Johnny Red Kerr and Tommy Heinsohn all were working as broadcasters well into the 2000s, but gradually fell by the wayside. Slick was the last one working a fulltime schedule. Kerr (Chicago) has passed away. Hundley (Utah) is retired and his health is failing, although he went to the trouble to fly in for the public premiere of Leonard's documentary at Bankers Life on July 29. Heinsohn (Boston) cut back his schedule before Leonard did, although he still makes the occasional road trip.

It wasn't exactly a competition to see who could survive the longest on an NBA payroll, but it means something to Leonard that he outlasted everyone from his era. It means he stayed on the bus the longest. While he's no longer a fulltime passenger, he's still riding it metaphorically. And he'll go as long as he can. 

You just finished Part 2 of a 2-part series on Pacers legend Slick Leonard's basketball career. Click here to read Part 1.


Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.

Bobby Leonard Hall of Fame Speech

Bobby Leonard delivers his acceptance speech at the 2014 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony.

Bobby Slick Leonard - Videos

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Bobby Leonard Hall of Fame Speech

Bobby Leonard delivers his acceptance speech at the 2014 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony.
Aug 7, 2014  |  00:00

Frank Vogel: It's a Great Time for the Franchise and Slick

August 8, 2014 - Pacers.com's Mark Boyle chats with Frank Vogel about Bobby "Slick" Leonard's coaching career at the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
Aug 8, 2014  |  02:04

Dan Burke: Slick, Nancy Had Big Impact on Pacers History

August 8, 2014 - Pacers.com's Mark Boyle talks with assistant coach Dan Burke about the lasting impact that Bobby "Slick" Leonard and wife Nancy had on the franchise.
Aug 8, 2014  |  01:59

Hall of Fame: Bobby ''Slick'' Leonard

Look back at Bobby ''Slick'' Leonard's career as he is inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Aug 7, 2014  |  00:00

Red Carpet Show: Larry Bird

Larry Bird talks about how proud he is of Bobby "Slick" Leonard being enshrined into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Aug 7, 2014  |  00:00

Mel Daniels on Slick in Hall of Fame: "It's About Time"

August 8, 2014 - Pacers.com's Mark Boyle gets reaction from Mel Daniels ahead of Bobby "Slick" Leonard's induction into the Hall of Fame.
Aug 8, 2014  |  03:11

Hall of Fame News Conference Introductions

The Class of 2014 is introduced at the Hall of Fame news conference.
Aug 6, 2014  |  00:00

Hall of Fame News Conference

Listen to the Class of 2014 as they speak at the Hall of Fame news conference.
Aug 6, 2014  |  00:00

Slick: "It's an honor for our family."

August 7, 2014 - Bobby "Slick" Leonard sits down with Mark Boyle in an extended interview at the 2014 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement to talk about what it means to be inducted.
Aug 7, 2014  |  07:56

Stern: "I'm honored to be here with him."

August 7, 2014 - Former NBA Commissioner David Stern talks about Bobby "Slick" Leonard and what it means to be inducted in to the 2014 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame alongside him.
Aug 7, 2014  |  01:02

"Heart of a Hoosier" World Premiere

July 29, 2014 - Pacers.com's Eddie White speaks with VIP guests attending the world premiere of "Bobby 'Slick' Leonard: Heart of a Hoosier."
Jul 29, 2014  |  04:15

Bobby "Slick" Leonard: "This is a Special Night"

July 29, 2014 - Pacers.com's Eddie White talks with Bobby "Slick" Leonard prior to the world premiere of the documentary chronicling his legendary playing, coaching and broadcasting career.
Jul 29, 2014  |  05:39

Nancy Leonard: "It's Been a Great Journey"

July 29, 2014 - Nancy Leonard reflects on Slick Leonard's basketball career prior to the world premiere of the documentary "Bobby 'Slick' Leonard: Heart of a Hoosier."
Jul 29, 2014  |  02:38

Filmmaker Ted Green Excited for Heart of a Hoosier Premiere

July 29, 2014 - Indianapolis filmmaker Ted Green talks about the excitement leading up to the world premiere of his latest film "Bobby 'Slick' Leonard: Heart of a Hoosier."
Jul 29, 2014  |  01:22

Mark Boyle Reflects on Working Alongside Slick Leonard

July 29, 2014 - Pacers radio broadcaster Mark Boyle talks about working alongside Bobby "Slick" Leonard and shares a unique story from the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals.
Jul 29, 2014  |  02:42

Mark Montieth Shares His Favorite Slick Leonard Story

July 29, 2014 - Pacers.com writer Mark Montieth shares his favorite story and memories of Slick Leonard's basketball career.
Jul 29, 2014  |  01:45

Slick Leonard: "A Hoosier Icon"

July 29, 2014 - President and CEO of WFYI, Lloyd Wright discusses his thoughts on 'Slick' before the world premiere of "Heart of a Hoosier."
Jul 29, 2014  |  01:29

Ed Bonach: Slick Is a "Living Legend"

July 29, 2014 - CEO of CNO Financial Group, Inc., Ed Bonach, discusses Bobby "Slick" Leonard's legacy and thoughts prior to the world premiere of "Heart of a Hoosier."
Jul 29, 2014  |  01:00

Robin Miller Discusses Slick Leonard's Career

July 29, 2014 - Former pacers beat writer Robin Miller discusses Slick Leonard's coaching career election to the Hall of Fame.
Jul 29, 2014  |  02:06

Slick Leonard Elected to Hall of Fame

February 14, 2014 - Legendary Pacers head coach Bob "Slick" Leonard is named as a 2014 electee to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Feb 14, 2014  |  00:32

Boyle Pays Tribute to Slick on Hall Nod

February 14, 2014 - The Voice of the Pacers, Mark Boyle, pays tribute to Pacers legend Bobby "Slick" Leonard on getting elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Feb 14, 2014  |  00:40

Hall of Fame Press Conference: Bobby “Slick” Leonard

February 14, 2014 - Pacers legend Bobby “Slick” Leonard talks to the media after the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced that he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame after being vote
Feb 14, 2014  |  14:47

Mel Daniels on Bobby Leonard’s Hall of Fame Induction

February 14, 2014 – Former Pacers player and Hall of Famer Mel Daniels talks about Bobby “Slick” Leonard’s coaching career after it was announced that Leonard will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in
Feb 14, 2014  |  02:13

Darnell Hillman on Slick Leonard’s Coaching Career

February 14, 2014 – Former Pacers player Darnell Hillman talks about what it was like to play for coach Bobby “Slick” Leonard and his impact on the history of basketball in Indiana.
Feb 14, 2014  |  02:22

Colangelo on Slick Leonard's Election to Hall of Fame

February 14, 2014 - Hall of Famer and USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo reacts to Slick Leonard's election to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Feb 14, 2014  |  01:25

Vogel on Slick Leonard's Election to Hall of Fame

February 14, 2014 - Pacers head coach Frank Vogel reacts to Bob "Slick" Leonard's election to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Feb 14, 2014  |  01:03

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