Branch McCracken and Bob Leonard. Credit - IU Archives

IU basketball and Pacers legend Bobby “Slick” Leonard passed away at age 88

The IU basketball family lost a legend on Tuesday.

Bobby “Slick” Leonard has passed away at the age of 88 according to the IU basketball Twitter account and several other reports.

Leonard was Indiana’s Most Valuable Player in 1952 and he earned All-Big Ten and All-American honors in 1953 and 1954.  The Terre Haute, Ind. native played on two Big Ten championship teams and an NCAA championship team in 1953.

Leonard made the game-winning free throw in the 1953 national championship game to deliver IU’s second title.

With the ball and a chance to win the game, Leonard drove to the basket and drew a foul with 27 seconds remaining against Kansas.  He would go to the line for two shots and a chance to deliver the crown.

The 6-foot-3 Leonard, a 67 percent free throw shooter, missed the first attempt short off the front of the rim.

Leonard’s jovial nature is perfectly illustrated by his recall of his winning shot from the charity stripe.

“They said Branch (McCracken) said you had ice water in your veins,” Leonard says he was informed after the game by reporters.

“If it was ice water, it sure felt warm running down my leg,” Leonard playfully recalled his response years later.

Both IU head coach Mike Woodson and Director of Athletics Scott Dolson released statements on Leonard.

“Slick has meant so much to me for such a long time,” Woodson said.  “Take a moment and think about this. He has meant as much as anyone in the state of Indiana when it comes to the game of basketball. 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. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his loving wife, Nancy, their children and everyone he touched on a daily basis.”

“I am heartbroken by the passing of Slick, and my heart goes out to his wife, Nancy, and the entire Leonard family,” said Dolson. “He was a Hoosier basketball legend, but more than anything, he was a Hoosier legend. Slick has been one of our state’s most beloved basketball figures for seven decades, someone who loved the game and dedicated his life to it. In addition to loving the sport of basketball, Slick and Nancy also loved IU. There was no alum that I enjoyed seeing more when he returned for a game than him. His stories were priceless and endless. He will be dearly missed.”

Leonard played seven years in the NBA with the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers and spent 12 years as the Indiana Pacers’ head coach (1968-1980) where he won 529 games and three ABA championships.

Leonard returned to the Pacers in 1985 as a color commentator, first for television with Jerry Baker, then on radio, where he remained alongside Mark Boyle on WFNI 1070 AM.  He called Pacers’ games for 35 years and was well known for his “Boom Baby” call when the team made a 3-pointer.

He is a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and was the first person inducted into the Indiana University Sports Hall of Fame. He was voted by a national sportswriters and broadcasters association as the ABA’s All-Time Coach. He was honored as a member of Indiana University’s All-Century Basketball Team.

On February 14, 2014, Leonard was named as a 2014 inductee to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and he was formally inducted on August 8 of that year.

Leonard is one of just six individuals in Pacers history to have a banner raised in his honor. Hanging from the rafters of Bankers Life Fieldhouse is a banner honoring Leonard and his 529 victories as coach of the Pacers.

A native of Terre Haute, Ind., Leonard lived in the northern Indianapolis suburbs with his wife, Nancy.  The couple met at IU and would have celebrated their 67th anniversary this summer.  They have five children and seven grandchildren.

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