by Mark Boyle
November 8, 2001
INDIANAPOLIS, November 8, 2001 - I realize that many of you, upon seeing my byline on this website for the first time, are probably thinking, ''What makes this guy think he's a columnist all of a sudden?''
Legitimate question. And, to be honest, I don't think I'm a columnist, but I do consider myself a fair man, and since I've asked Pacers.com's Conrad Brunner to do a regular pregame segment on the Pacers Radio Network before all home games, the least I can do is reciprocate. In short, you're stuck with me.
It's hard for me to believe that this will be my 14th season as the Pacers play-by-play announcer. I've seen some terrific basketball, including five trips to the conference finals and the memorable run to the NBA Finals in 2000, but when I'm old and decrepit (all right, older and more decrepit than I am now) I'm pretty sure that the thing that will stick with me most is the time I've spent working with Slick Leonard.
The first few years I was with the Pacers, I worked alone for the most part. When the playoffs started in 1994, Slick joined me for what turned out to be the Pacers' first run to the Eastern Conference Finals and we've been together ever since.
I must admit a certain ambivalence about the whole idea at first; after all, I'd had the stage to myself for quite awhile and was used flying solo. Not only would I be getting a partner, but this was a guy that was more popular than anyone in the history of the franchise. Would he take over the broadcasts? Would I become nothing more than a straight man for his unusual brand of folksy humor, a Dean Martin to his Jerry Lewis? Would my promising broadcast career take a sudden southerly turn, resulting in my ultimate relocation to some remote outpost where I would be forever consigned to broadcasting junior-high track meets? Believe me, while I was intrigued by the idea to a certain degree, it's fair to say that I was also more than a little concerned.
Bobby "Slick" Leonard and Mark Boyle.
As it turned out, it was the best thing that ever could have happened to me. Not only have I been able to gravy-train off of Slick's enormous popularity, I've also learned more than a few things about basketball and life in general. I've worked with any number of partners in all of the major sports over the years, but none come close to matching Slick's passion for both the franchise and the people who are a part of it. He wants to win so badly, but more than that he wants the people he cares about to succeed.
I remember during that first run in '94 when the Pacers took a lead to the fourth quarter of the seventh game of the conference finals with the Knicks; after years of mediocrity (or worse) the team was suddenly on the verge of climbing into the ring to play for an NBA title. This was all too much for Slick, who turned to me during the commercial break between the third and fourth quarters and informed me that he was a nervous wreck and needed a cigarette, then disappeared into the bowels of Madison Square Garden and proceeded to suck down God knows how many smokes before returning for the final two-and-a-half minutes of the game. Six years later, we sat in the same building and I vividly recall the tears welling in his eyes as the Pacers took out the Knicks to make it to the NBA Finals for the first time.
Of course, his unbridled enthusiasm and passion cause the man to violate every known rule of broadcast professionalism. It's not uncommon for him to suddenly pull off his headset during the action, making it all the easier to berate an official on his way up the court. He thinks nothing of standing up and giving the players high-fives and hand-slaps on their way to a timeout huddle after a successful run. And if a player is standing close enough to our broadcast position during a timeout, it's more than possible that Slick will take the opportunity to offer encouragement or a tip on how to exploit an unsuspecting opponent the next trip down the floor.
Do I need to tell you that I wouldn't have it any other way?