Hall of Fame coach Bobby “Slick” Leonard, who won three ABA titles with the Indiana Pacers, has died at 88.
The Pacers announced Leonard’s death on Tuesday but no other details were revealed by the club. Leonard’s family later released a statement, saying he passed away in his sleep.
Leonard told the Indianapolis NBC affiliate in mid-February that he underwent surgery for an abdominal aortic aneurysm in November.
Leonard went 529-456 in 12 seasons (1968-80) with the Pacers — eight in the ABA and four in the NBA after the merger of the two leagues.
Leonard won ABA titles in the 1969-70, 1971-72 and 1972-73 seasons. After the merger, he didn’t produce a playoff berth or a winning season and went 142-186 before being dismissed.
He returned to the organization as a television/radio analyst in 1985 and served in the role up until his death.
“Pacers fans will remember Bobby ‘Slick’ Leonard as the spirit of our franchise,” owners Herb Simon and Steve 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 Nancy are our family, and his passing leaves an unfillable void in the hearts of everyone associated with this organization. We keep the entire Leonard family in our prayers, and we recognize and honor Slick for what he meant to our state both on and off the court.”
Leonard was born in Terre Haute, Ind., and later was a two-time All-American at Indiana. The guard was the captain of Indiana’s 1953 NCAA championship team before a stint in the Army from 1954-56.
He then played seven seasons for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers and was an All-Star in 1963. Leonard averaged 9.9 points and 3.3 assists in 426 career games.
Former Pacers coach Larry Bird and former star player Reggie Miller, both fellow Hall of Famers, were among those remembering Leonard on Tuesday.
“To me, Slick was a real Hoosier, he loved the State and everyone that lives there,” Bird said in a statement. “He was a great mentor to me and a friend that everyone should have. Slick will be greatly missed and remembered with respect and admiration forever.”
Said Miller: “This one hurts Pacers Nation. … So very saddened by the loss of a beloved human being in Bobby ‘Slick’ Leonard. We all know how great a Coach you were in guiding the ABA Pacers to 3 Championships, but you were a much better friend. I will cherish every single one of our conversations and pass them along to my kids.”
Leonard was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014.
–Field Level Media