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Mr. Pacer is in the Hall of Fame

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Bobby “Slick” Leonard is now a Hall of Famer. The 82-year-old remembered the ABA era of the Indiana Pacers.

Jim Rogash

He had to follow Nolan Richardson, who gave an all-time great induction speech, but Slick Leonard was perfect for following 40 minutes of hell.

"He’s Mr. Pacer, and he always will be," Larry Bird said of Leonard.

Leonard took us through his past in basketball. In 1953 he hit a free throw that gave Indiana University a 69-68 victory over Kansas in the national title game. Phog Allen was coaching the Jayhawks and took a timeout to ice Leonard before he shot his late-game free throws.

It worked for the first one, but Leonard made the second to take the lead. After the game reporters told Leonard that his coach said Leonard had ice water in his veins.

"If that was ice water it sure as hell felt awful warm running down my leg," Leonard said.

Leonard played seven seasons in the NBA, five with the Minneapolis (then Los Angeles) Lakers and two for the Chicago Packers (then Zephyrs). He averaged 9.9 points and 3.3 assists in the NBA.

Later he became the head coach of the Indiana Pacers in 1968 and guided Indiana to its three ABA titles. With an ABA record of 387-220, Leonard is the winningest coach in ABA history.  In the ABA, Leonard’s Pacers won 58.9 percent of their games, including an incredible 1969-70 season.

That year’s team went 59-25 (70.2%) and won the Eastern Division by 14 games. The Pacers rolled to the finals, sweeping the Carolina Cougars in four games, then handling the Kentucky Colonels four games to one.

In the finals, the Pacers played the Los Angeles Stars and clinched the title in game six with a 111-107 victory in Los Angeles. Regular season and playoffs combined, Indiana won 71 of its 99 games.

Leonard and the Pacers went on to win three titles in four years, as Indiana went back to back in the 1971-72 and 1972-73 seasons coming out of the Western Division.

Notes

  • This was the fourth consecutive year that the Pacers are represented at the Hall of Fame as Chris Mullin was inducted in 2011, Mel Daniels in 2012 and Reggie Miller in 2013.
  • Daniels was coached by Leonard, as the Pacers won three ABA titles in the early 1970s. As a 6-foot-9 center, Daniels averaged 19.4 points and 16 rebounds as a Pacer.
  • Leonard said his wife hosted a telethon that saved the Pacer franchise when the ABA was broke.
  • In Leonard’s introductory video, there was wonderful video of the ABA Pacer jerseys like this.
  • See the whole list of 2014 Hall of Fame inductees here
  • Here is one of Leonard’s more excitable radio calls with Mark Boyle

<iframe width="854" height="510" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/2ZRWDifjGoI" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Quotes

  • "For me it took awhile, but I’m going out in style."
  • "I’ve had a love affair with the fans and the people in the state of Indiana. We call ourselves Hoosiers. I wish that it could last forever, but I know better than that."