Bobby ‘Slick’ Leonard, 88, Pacers Hall of Fame coach, dies

Pacers legend Slick Leonard
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS — Bobby “Slick” Leonard was selected as the ABA’s greatest coach. Hall of Fame player George McGinnis considered him a genius.

On Tuesday, the Indiana Pacers announced that the man who led them to three ABA championships during a Hall of Fame coaching career and was selected a 1963 NBA All-Star had died. No details about the 88-year-old Leonard were provided but he had been in failing health in recent years.

“He was the greatest,” McGinnis said in March. “He loved all of his guys and, yes, he had his days. If you got on the wrong side of him, it wasn’t going to be a good deal for you.”

But, McGinnis added, there was a big difference between Leonard and Indiana Hoosiers coach Bob Knight: After Leonard ripped into you and “wore you out, he’d take you out for a beer and say ‘You know I love you, I’m doing this for your own good.”‘

Leonard became one of the crown princes of Indiana basketball.

Yes, he went 573-534 in 14 seasons as a coach, winning 529 in 12 seasons with the Pacers.

But the legacy went far deeper.

The star tennis player at Terre Haute Gerstmeyer High School chose to play basketball at nearby Indiana University. He wound up leading the Hoosiers to two Big Ten titles, was a two-time All-American and made the winning free throws to give Indiana the 1953 national championship.

Decades later, he was selected as one of the 50 greatest players in school history and was part of the Hoosiers’ all-century team.

“He has meant as much as anyone in the state of Indiana when it comes to the game of basketball,” new Indiana coach Mike Woodson said. “He played the game with great flair. He coached with undeniable passion.

“His smile put everyone at ease. The man was a champion through and through whether it was with the Pacers organization or at Indiana University. Without question, he was a Hall of Fame human being.”

After serving in the U.S. Army in the mid-1950s, Leonard played professionally for seven years with the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers and was named an NBA All-Star in 1963.

But his greatest moments as a professional came with the budding franchise that hired him in 1968-69 and that he worked with for more than a half-century.

“Pacers fans will remember Bobby `Slick’ Leonard as the spirit of our franchise,” team owner Herb Simon said in a statement. “With a charisma, intensity, and wit to match his nickname, Slick made us champions.

“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 (his wife) Nancy are our family, and his passing leaves an unfillable void in the hearts of everyone associated with this organization.”

Leonard took the Pacers to the ABA Finals in his first season – and four more times over the next six years, winning titles in 1969-70, 1971-72 and 1972-73.

“He was the best coach that I ever played for in last shot, pressure situations,” McGinnis said. “In the seventh game, he would change the entire offense. It was genius. I think that’s why if you look at the Pacers, they won all three championships, I believe, in seventh games on the road.”

Leonard did more than just win, too.

In 1977, the folksy Leonard and his wife helped organize a telethon that saved a franchise facing financial ruin after moving from the ABA to the NBA.

He was let go after the 1979-80 season, failing to post a winning record in the Pacers’ first four NBA seasons.

But he re-emerged as the color commentator on Pacers television broadcasts in 1985. He later moved into the radio booth where the plain-talking, storytelling Leonard coined his trademark phrase “Boom, Baby!” whenever Pacers players made 3-pointers.

Leonard was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee in 2014. He’s also a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and the Indiana Sports Writers and Broadcasters Hall of Fame and was the first person inducted into the Indiana University Sports Hall of Fame.

His victory total with the Pacers, 529, hangs on a banner in the Bankers Life Fieldhouse rafters.

Gov. Eric Holcomb called him the “embodiment of basketball” and an “Indiana icon.”

“His presence in the arena and in our state will be deeply missed,” he said in a statement. “You can’t find anyone who doesn’t love Slick.”

Leonard is survived by his wife, their five children, 12 grandchildren and six grea-grandchildren.

Pelicans Trey Murphy III reportedly invited to participate in Dunk Contest


We knew three participants invited to the All-Star Saturday night Dunk Contest: G-League fan favorite Mac McClung, the Portland Trail Blazers Shaedon Sharpe and the Houston Rockets’ KJ Martin.

The fourth slot in that event will go to the Pelicans’ Trey Murphy, reports Andrew Lopez of ESPN.

No doubt Murphy can throw it down with the best of them.

The Dunk Contest will headline All-Star Saturday night, Feb. 18, from the Vivint Arena (soon to be the Delta Center again). The event will be broadcast on TNT.

The Dunk Contest is the Saturday night headline event, but it has fallen flat in recent years. Adding a G-League dunker and young, bouncy athletes such as Murphy, Martin and Sharpe could make this one entertaining. However, what fans really want to see — what made the Dunk Contest must-watch back in the day when Jordan, Kobe, and Vince Carter were doing it — is the stars. There will be no Ja Morant, no Zion Williamson, and no Anthony Edwards in this contest.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,271

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Jan. 30 at Nets
Jan. 31 at Knicks
Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 4 at the New Orleans Pelicans.

Since he turned 38 (on Dec. 30), LeBron has averaged 35.2 points per game, which would see the mark broken in New Orleans. However, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the record fall when LeBron returns to Los Angeles on Feb. 7 or Feb. 9.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”

Watch Harden run onto court from bench mid-play to defend


It takes a second to notice, but the 76ers had just four players on the court trying to defend the Nuggets on a late third-quarter possession.

But when James Harden — sitting on the bench — notices it, he stands up and runs into play, drawing a technical.

The technical foul was for having four men on the court, not on Harden specifically.

While that may have been a rare instance of Harden rushing to play defense, the 76ers as a team cranked up their defense in the second half against the Nuggets and went on to get the home win behind 47 points from Joel Embiid.

LeBron livid over no foul call at end of regulation, Lakers fall to Celtics in OT


“The best player on earth can’t get a call. It’s amazing.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham made that comment out of frustration after another game where the Lakers felt robbed at the end. He wasn’t the only Laker.

LeBron James was once again brilliant — 41 points, nine rebounds and eight assists — but with the game tied against the Celtics and 4.1 seconds on the clock, he drove the lane and didn’t get the foul call when it clearly looked like Jayson Tatum hit him on the arm as he shot.

After the game, referee crew chief Eric Lewis admitted the officials missed the call:

There was contact. At the time, during the game, we did not see a foul. The crew missed the play.”

Patrick Beverley picked up a technical foul for bringing a photographer’s camera over to the referee to show evidence of the foul.

These losses are a punch to the gut for a Laker team with little margin for error and trying to make up ground in the West (at 23-27 they sit 13th in the conference). But LeBron sees a pattern — he is scoring 30.2 points per game (sixth in the league) but is getting to the line just 4.9 times per game, fewer than anyone else in the top nine in the league in scoring.

“I don’t get it. I’m attacking the paint, just as much as any of the guys in this league that’s shooting double-digit free throws a night, and I don’t get it. I don’t understand it,” James said postgame in Boston.

The other Lakers were a little more direct.

Boston pulled away in overtime to get the 125-121 win, snapping their own three-game losing streak.

LeBron finished with 41, Anthony Davis 16 (on 6-of-15 shooting off the bench) and Beverley had 15 including a key putback dunk. Jaylen Brown scored 37 for Boston, Tatum 30 and Malcolm Brogdon had 26 off the bench.

There are no moral victories for these Lakers more than halfway into the season, playing the team with the best record in the NBA close and almost winning does not count. Time is running out on LeBron and his team, they need to string together some wins. They felt they should have gotten the chance to win this one.