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INDIANAPOLIS — Bobby “Slick” Leonard, the former NBA player and Hall of Fame coach who won three ABA championships with the Indiana Pacers and spent more than a half century with the organization, has died. He was 88.
His death was announced by the Pacers on Tuesday. No details were given. He had been in failing health in recent years.
Leonard had a record of 573-534 in 14 seasons as a coach, the last 12 with the Pacers.
He also made the winning free throws in the 1953 NCAA Tournament to give the Indiana Hoosiers the second of its five national titles and was later named one of the school's 50 greatest players. The two-time All-American led the Hoosiers to Big Ten titles in 1953 and 1954 before joining the U.S. Army.
He then played seven years with the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers and was named an NBA All-Star in 1963. But his greatest moments as a professional came after he took over the Pacers in 1968-69.
“Pacers fans will remember Bobby ‘Slick’ Leonard as the spirit of our franchise," team 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 (his wife) Nancy are our family, and his passing leaves an unfillable void in the hearts of everyone associated with this organization."
Leonard did more than just win games.
He and his wife helped organized a telethon in 1977 to save the franchise, which was facing financial hardship after being one of the few ABA teams to join the NBA following the merger.
In 1985, he became the Pacers colour commentator on television broadcasts and later moved into the radio booth where he coined his trademark phrase “Boom, Baby!” when Pacers players made 3-pointers.
“He was the best coach that I ever played for in last shot, pressure situations," Hall of Fame player George McGinnis said recently. “In the seventh game, he would change the entire offence . It was genius. I think that’s why if you look at the Pacers, they won all three championships, I believe, in seventh games on the road."
Leonard was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee in 2014. He's also a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and the Indiana Sports Writers and Broadcasters Hall of Fame and was the first person inducted into the Indiana University Sports Hall of Fame.
His victory total with the Pacers, 529, hangs on a banner in the Bankers Life Fieldhouse rafters.
Michael Marot, The Associated Press