Longtime Indiana Pacers coach Bobby 'Slick' Leonard dies at 88

Ryan Young
·2 min read

Longtime Indiana Pacers head coach and Hall of Famer Bobby “Slick” Leonard died on Tuesday, the team announced.

He was 88.

Leonard coached the Pacers from 1969-1980, and led them to three ABA titles. Specific details about his death were not provided, however his family said in a statement to the Indianapolis Star that he died in his sleep and “had been struggling with numerous ailments for some time.”

"Pacers fans will remember Bobby 'Slick' Leonard as the spirit of our franchise,” Pacers owner Herb 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 spent three seasons at Indiana and helped lead them to an NCAA championship in 1953. The consensus All-American was then taken with the 10th overall pick in the 1954 draft by the Baltimore Bullets, however he didn’t make his debut in the league until two years later while serving in the U.S. Army.

Leonard played seven seasons in the league from 1956-63, both for the Lakers organization in Minnesota and Los Angeles and the Chicago Packers and Chicago Zephyrs.

He actually took over as the Zephyrs’ coach midway through his final season in the NBA. Leonard then spent a season leading the Bullets before making his return to Indiana in 1968.

The Terre Haute, Indiana, native spent the next 12 seasons with the Pacers both in the NBA and the ABA, and led them to ABA titles in 1970, 1972 and 1973. He compiled a 573-534 overall record as a coach.

Leonard was then inducted into the Hall of Fame as a coach in 2014.

"To me, Slick was a real Hoosier, he loved the State and everyone that lives there,” former Pacers coach and executive Larry 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. My family and I send our sincere condolences to Nancy and the Leonard family."

Former Indiana Pacers coach Bobby
Bobby "Slick" Leonard led the Pacers to three ABA titles during his 12 seasons leading the franchise. (AP/AJ Mast)

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