Bobby “Slick” Leonard

bobby-leonard-branch-mccracken
Photo: IU Archives

Bobby “Slick” Leonard Biography

William Robert “Slick” Leonard is an American former basketball player and coach born in Terre Haute, Indiana that played for Indiana University. Bobby Leonard was a point guard for the Indiana Hoosiers for three seasons between 1951 and 1954. The Indiana native played at Gerstmeyer Technical High School in Terre Haute where he was awarded as a member of the All-State basketball team. In his time with the Hoosiers under Coach Branch McCracken, Slick was a two time All-Big Ten member in 1953 and 1954 as well as an All-American in 1954. Bobby was a captain of the 1953 National Championship team where he hit the game winning free throw for Indiana over Kansas in the title game.

The former national champion played professionally for seven years in the NBA for the Lakers, Zephyrs, and Packers. Bobby became coach of the Indiana Pacers in 1968 where he coached until 1980 leading the team to win three ABA championships and 529 games during that time. The coaching legend returned to the Pacers in 1985 as a color commentator where his signature phrase “Boom baby!” after a Pacers three point jumper can still be heard during games today. In 2014, Leonard was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

  • Name: William Robert “Slick” Leonard
  • Position: Point Guard
  • Nationality: USA
  • Age: 87 years old
  • Birthday: July 17, 1932
  • Hometown: Terre Haute, Indiana
  • High School: Gerstmeyer Technical High School (Terre Haute, Indiana)
  • Height: 6’3″ (190.5 cm)
  • Weight: 185 lb (83.9kg)
  • Seasons: 3 (1951-1954)
  • Jersey: #21
  • NBA Draft: 1954 / Round 2 / Pick 10 Overall (Baltimore Bullets)
  • Professional Career: Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers (1956-1961) and Chicago Packers/Zephyrs (1961-1963)
  • Coaching Career: Chicago Zephyrs (1962-1963), Baltimore Bullets (1963-1964), and Indiana Pacers (1968-1980)

Player/Coach Accolades and Awards

  • 1953 NCAA National Champion
  • 1953 and 1954 Big Ten Champion
  • 2x All-Big Ten First Team (1953 and 1954)
  • 2x NCAA Tournament All-Region (1953 and 1954)
  • NCAA All-Tournament (1953)
  • Consensus All-American 2nd Team (1953-1954)
  • East-West College All-Star Game MVP (Sophomore season)
  • 1982 Indiana University Athletics Hall of Fame Inductee
  • 3x ABA Champion (Pacers Coach)
  • 2014 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee
  • 2x Captain (1952 and 1953 Season)

Bobby Leonard High School Career

(Photo Credit: WFYI Indianapolis)

Before his career at Indiana, Leonard played high school basketball for Gerstmeyer Technical High School in Terre Haute, Indiana. Slick was a smaller guard in high school but he was still able to excel as an athlete. He was a member of the Indiana All-State Basketball team, a team consisting of talented players throughout the entire state. His athleticism not only helped him on the hardwood but also on the tennis court as he won the Indiana State Tennis Singles Championship. Bobby’s team played in the old one class system in the state where all teams were in one class competing for championships instead of the traditional four class system today.

Even though his team never made it passed the sectional round of the state playoffs the former point guard was exceptional and received many scholarships from college programs. Indiana Coach Branch McCracken would be one of the ones to offer Slick and he would take it as Indiana was very close to his home.

Bobby Leonard Seasons with the Hoosiers

1951-1952 Indiana Basketball Season
Branch McCracken (11th Season)
16-6 (9-5 Big Ten)
4th Place Big Ten

1952-1953 Indiana Basketball Season
Branch McCracken (12th Season)
23-3 (17-1 Big Ten)
🏆 1st Place Big Ten
🏆 NCAA Champions
1953-1954 Indiana Basketball Season
Branch McCracken (13th Season)
20-4 (12-2 Big Ten)
🏆 1st Place Big Ten
🥉 NCAA Regional Third Place

Indiana University Career Statistics

Season G FG FGA FG% FT FTA FT% TRB AST PF PTS
1951-52 22 131 369 0.355 57 81 0.704 101 18 78 319
1952-53 26 164 503 0.326 96 144 0.667 93 68 424
1953-54 23 138 432 0.319 79 123 0.642 65 355
Career 71 433 1304 0.332 232 348 0.667 194 18 211 1098

Bobby Leonard Indiana University Career

In his first season (it was his sophomore year because freshman could not play), Leonard became a part of the “Hurryin Hoosiers” as McCracken’s team went up and down the court rapidly and forced teams to run with them. He played all 22 games for the Hoosiers and was the team’s second leading scorer behind Center Don Schlundt. Slick was a key role for the Hoosiers offense his first year as he averaged 14.5 points and shot over 35 percent from the field per game. The three point line had not been established during Slick’s time in Indiana but he was able to shoot at consistent rate.

(Photo Credit: Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame)

Leonard and the Hoosiers had a 16-6 record overall and finished fourth in the Big Ten. The team did not make the NCAA tournament as back then it would most likely take winning the conference to get in as the tournament field was significantly smaller compared to today’s structure.

(Photo Credit: Indiana University Archives)

Leonard’s Junior season at Indiana was a banner year for the Hoosiers. The 1952 to 1953 Indiana team brought a second national championship to Bloomington as they went 23-3 on their way to winning the title. Slick was a key role that season as had his best season in scoring averaging 16.3 points per game and shooting 32 percent from the field.

Bobby may have had the biggest pressure filled moment during the national title game against Phog Allen’s defending national champion Kansas Jayhawks. The game was tied at 68 with 27 seconds left when Jayhawk and former North Carolina Head Coach Dean Smith fouled Leonard sending him to the free throw line for two shots. He would clank the first one off the rim but would then hit the second giving the Hoosiers their second title in school history. The 1952 season saw Bobby racking up the accolades as he was an All-Big First Team member, NCAA All-Tournament, and NCAA Tournament All-Region.

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(Photo Credit: Indiana University Archives)

His final season in Bloomington would not shape out to be as celebratory as his prior one but Slick was able to contribute and remain a focal point for his team. The senior averaged 15.4 points per game and shot almost 32 percent from the field in his 23 games during the 1953 campaign. Leonard and the Hoosiers won over 80 percent of their games with a 20-4 record and won the Big Ten for the second year a row. However, Indiana lost in the regional semifinal by one point against Notre Dame and could only muster an East Regional Third Place finish when they beat Louisiana State. Bobby once again was an All-Big Ten First Team and NCAA Tournament All-Region member. He was also awarded as a second team Consensus All-American for his play in his final season as a Hoosier.

Slick used his time at Indiana to make a name for himself as well as helping the Hoosiers be a national powerhouse. His leadership was awarded with being named a captain in his final two seasons with the team. Leonard also dominated Indiana’s arch-rival Purdue Boilermakers as the team never lost to the Boilers during his career in Bloomington. In 1982, Bobby would be the first to be inducted to the Indiana University Athletics Hall of Fame.

Bobby Leonard Professional Career

After leaving Indiana for a professional career, Leonard set his sights on the 1954 NBA Draft. He was picked in the second round at 10th overall to the Baltimore Bullets. His first four seasons in the league had him playing for the Minnesota Lakers who would later become the well known Los Angeles Lakers. Slick’s first two seasons were his best for scoring as he averaged over 11 points per game in both seasons.He would go on to average 8.8 points per game while shooting 34 percent from the field in 5 seasons with the Lakers.

(Photo Credit: Mark Montieth, nba.com)

Once his time with the Lakers was up, Bobby went on to play in Chicago for two seasons with the Packers who changed their name to the Zephyrs in 1962. At 16.1 points per game in his first season with Chicago, Slick would have his career best in scoring while shooting over 37 percent from the field in 70 games of action. His final season as a player would come in the 1962 to 1963 campaign as he would only play 32 games in the season and average just above nine points per game. Leonard would then begin his coaching career in 1962 with Chicago in his final season as a player with the team. He went 13-29 in games that year and the team finished fifth in the West Division. The former player turned coach went to Baltimore the next season and won just 31 games during the 1963 season.

In 1968, the Terre Haute native would make a return to the Hoosier state. Slick would become the coach of the Indiana Pacers who were then in the ABA. The homecoming was a long and glory filled one as Bobby led the Pacers to 387 wins and three ABA Championships in ’70, ’72, and ’73. As an ABA team, Slick’s Pacers had three seasons with 50 plus wins, only one season below 40 wins, and eight playoff appearances.

(Photo Credit: Christys of INDIANA, INC.)

Then came the merger with the NBA as the ABA was being dissolved and the success of Leonard’s Pacers went down as the competition improved. Bobby’s four remaining seasons with the Pacers were the team’s first four in the NBA and they only won 142 out of 328 games. The team had no playoff appearances and did not finish better than fourth in the division.

(Photo Credit: WFYI Indianapolis)

Even though the merger did not work well for the Pacers during those times. Slick had an incredible career as the Pacers Head Coach. He had a total of 529 wins with the team from 1968 to 1980 and that is the number that the organization used when retiring Slick’s jersey in the rafters of the arena. In 2014, he would be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

The “Boom Baby” Catchphrase

(Photo Credit: Scott Howard-Cooper, nba.com)

Leonard returned to the Pacers in 1986 as a broadcaster where he remains today. He is currently the color commentator for WFIN 1070 AM where he is alongside current play-by-play commentator Mark Boyle bringing Pacers basketball to fans across the state. As a color commentator Slick uses his energy, insight, and passion for the game to bring a unique take on the game to every fan listening. His signature saying “Boom, baby!” can be heard across the airwaves whenever a Pacer buries a three point bomb from downtown.

Videos of Bobby “Slick” Leonard

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(Contributor: Andrew Rude)