Welcome Back, Slick

by Mark Boyle

March 26, 2003

With Mark Boyle
Indianapolis, March 26, 2003 - There are certain days on the calendar that merit special consideration. We look forward to Christmas, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, and Opening Day with such anticipation that we put them in capital letters and breathlessly await their arrival. This year, I’m including another day on that list.

Today is The Day Slick Returns.

Most of you know that Slick Leonard had hip replacement surgery in late January and has missed almost two months while recuperating. What you may not realize is how much I’ve missed having him around and how eagerly I’m looking forward to his return. While it’s probably true that it’s easier to work the broadcast solo, there’s no doubt that it’s a lot more enjoyable for me and (I hope) more entertaining and informative for the listener when Slick’s in the saddle.

Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself while The Man recuperated. On several occasions, we utilized celebrity-types to fill in for Slick, and while they may have lacked Slick’s knowledge and insight, they did offer a unique perspective. It was challenging and, at times, educational to work with folks from the political (Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson), sports (Tampa Bay Bucs tight end Ken Dilger and IRL driver Sara Fisher), entertainment (CBS Late Late Night host Craig Kilborn and local rock icon Henry Lee Summer), and corporate (Emmis Broadcasting CEO Jeff Smulyan) fields.

And as long as Slick and I have worked together, I don’t ever recall an NBA player coming over to our broadcast location before the game to hit on my partner, as Boston’s Antoine Walker did the night I worked with Jennifer Eichler (AKA The Watson’s Girl). Still, none of that compares with spending 82 nights a year with Slick.

While I’ve always marveled at his mastery and knowledge of the game, most analysts know the game cold and that’s not what makes Slick special. He communicates passion and emotion, whether he’s reveling in the team’s successes or agonizing over their failures. And if you don’t think those emotions are genuine, I wish you could have seen the tears in his eyes when the Pacers beat the Knicks in New York to advance to the 2000 NBA Finals. Or the bright red hue creeping into his face and the steam coming out of his ears when the officials make bad calls, which in The World According to Slick, is any time the whistle blows against the Pacers.

During the time we’ve spent together, he’s made me laugh more times than I can remember and he’s made me shake my head in disbelief more than once (I’ll never forget the time that he referred to the Tourette’s Syndrome that afflicted Sacramento guard Mahmoud-Abdul-Rauf as “that twitchy thing”).

I’ve been in broadcasting for over almost 25 years and have been with the Pacers for 15 seasons, and whatever else I’ve accomplished over that period of time will always take a backseat to the satisfaction I’ve gotten from being part of the broadcasts I’ve done with Slick. Over the years, I like to think we’ve become identified with one another. Sort of like Gilligan and the Skipper, Batman and Robin (not that I could ever imagine Slick in tights), or Baskin and Robbins. And while I’d never admit this to him, and he’ll never see this because he has yet to figure out how to turn on a computer and is only vaguely aware of the existence of the Internet, I value our relationship more than I can articulate.

And here’s the funny thing. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit I didn’t always feel this way. While I didn’t necessarily dispute that adding an extra voice would benefit the broadcast, when I was younger and more territorial I worried that such a move might cramp my style. After all, I’d flown solo my first several seasons with the Pacers and had put my own stamp on the broadcasts. And though I cringe when thinking back on it, I will grudgingly concede that in my youthful arrogance I enjoyed having the spotlight all to myself and was concerned about carrying an old man on my back night after night.

Over the years, I’ve learned two things. Slick is not old. And it turns out that he’s been carrying me the whole time.