SPRINGFIELD, Mass – If there was an elephant in the room on one of basketball’s biggest nights, it was quickly shown the door on Friday night.
Around a minute or two into his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Slick Leonard made a joke that meant a lot to him and perhaps others who have known him throughout this career.
“I may not be the oldest guy that’s ever been inducted into the Hall of Fame,” said Leonard. “But I bet I’m in the Top 5.”
The statement drew laughter from the crowd full of basketball dignitaries, including Pacers president Larry Bird and fellow Hall of Famer Mel Daniels. At 82, Leonard is one of the older coaches, players or front office staff to enter the hall in its history.
But that didn’t mean “Slick” didn’t have plenty of energy for the opportunity which he’s waited for a lifetime.
Leonard spoke for nearly 20 minutes on the podium as he was enshrined with nine others into the Class of 2014. Most of his speech was about thanking those who were with him during his long journey through the world of basketball, which started in his youth in Terre Haute and continues today as a Pacers color commentator.
“I’ve had a love affair with the fans and the people in the State of Indiana,” said Leonard-and it’s in the state that he made his greatest impact.
He led Indiana University to a national championship in 1953, which led to a seven-year NBA career in Minneapolis and Chicago.
It’s when he joined the Pacers as a coach that Leonard became a household basketball name, winning 529 games from 1968-1980 in the ABA and NBA. It’s in the former that he enjoyed incredible success, leading the Pacers to three ABA championships in the 1970s.
Leonard has now earned himself notoriety as a color commentator for Pacers games alongside veteran broadcaster Mark Boyle. His signature “Boom Baby” call is one of the more well-known catch phrases in all of the NBA.