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Bobby Leonard, Hall of Fame Basketball Coach, Dies at 88

  • April 17, 2021

Gov. Eric Holcomb of Indiana called Leonard “the embodiment of basketball.”

Leonard was known as Slick. A 6-foot-3-inch guard, he was a fine playmaker in his seven seasons in the N.B.A. But his nickname wasn’t derived from his savvy on the court.

As he once told the story to Carmel magazine, an Indiana monthly, while playing for the Minneapolis Lakers in the 1950s he was involved in a game of gin rummy with the team’s star center, George Mikan, on a preseason bus trip. “I blitzed him,” Leonard recalled, “and one of the players said that I was too slick. It stuck.”

Leonard was an analyst and color commentator on Pacers broadcasts for some 35 years, beginning on television in 1985 and later moving to radio. He injected a colorful note with his exclamation “Boom, baby!” after an Indiana player hit a three-point shot.

William Robert Leonard was born in Terre Haute, Ind., on July 17, 1932, one of three children of Raymond and Hattie Leonard. His father dug ditches during the Depression. “We used to stand in commodity lines, and they would give you a few cans of food and some flour,” he recalled in “Boom, Baby! My Basketball Life in Indiana” (2013, with Lew Freedman).

Leonard was an outstanding basketball and tennis player in high school and then played for three seasons at Indiana University. His free throw with 27 seconds remaining gave the Hoosiers a 69-68 victory over Kansas in the 1953 N.C.A.A. championship game. He was named a third-team All-American in 1953 and a second-team All-American in 1954 by The Associated Press and was chosen for Indiana University’s all-century team.

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