Last Friday, just a few days after I finished reading Bobby “Slick” Leonard’s autobiography, Leonard was announced as a member of the 2014 class of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
We Hoosiers have known for ages that Slick belonged in the Hall of Fame. He guided the Indiana Pacers to three ABA championships in the 1970s when the top players in the ABA were just as skilled as those in the rival NBA. And, of course, we’ve loved Slick and his “Boom, baby!” proclamations as a Pacers radio broadcaster for the last two decades.
But, I didn’t appreciate the breadth of Leonard’s basketball acumen as a player, coach and ambassador until reading his book, appropriately titled “Boom, Baby! My Basketball Life in Indiana” and written with Lew Freedman.
Ten things I learned from the book:
1. One of Leonard’s teammates on the 1953 national championship Indiana University basketball team was a Fortville native, Jim DeaKyne. Leonard was a first-team All-Big Ten selection from that squad, while DeaKyne was a reserve. I’ve done some rudimentary research on DeaKyne and haven’t come up with much. So, if anyone knows more about what would be a rare Division I national championship player to come out of Hancock County, drop me a line.
2. Five players from the 1953 title squad, including Leonard, were drafted into the NBA. Leonard went in the second round of the 1954 draft to the Baltimore Bullets. While Leonard served two years in the military, the Bullets folded and the Minneapolis Lakers acquired his rights. Leonard finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1956-57 after averaging 11.2 points. Boston’s Tom Heinsohn won the award.
3. On what was, for those days, a rare plane flight between cities for a professional sports team, Leonard and 21 Minneapolis players, staff and DC-3 flight crew survived a January, 1960, crash landing in an Iowa cornfield. The flight from Minneapolis to St. Louis went down in the dead of night and the incident gained national attention.
“We were all scared,” Slick recalls of the moments before the plane’s emergency landing, later learned to be due to electrical problems. “I thought to myself, ‘What a hell of a way to die.’ Then Tommy Hawkins said to me, ‘Slick, do you think we’re going to die?’ And I said, ‘Hell, no.’”