The most important sports figure in Indianapolis history is no longer with us.
In hearing the news earlier this afternoon of Bobby “Slick” Leonard’s passing at the age of 88, that was my first thought. Slick, and his wife, Nancy, are the reason the Indiana Pacers still exist. If the Pacers stopped existing in Indiana in 1977, then Reggie Miller would’ve never played his professional career here. With no other professional sports team in the city, it would’ve been even more challenging for Indianapolis to have convinced the Colts to come here in 1984. Hell, does the Hoosier Dome even get built? Yes, the city’s famous sports strategy was started by Dick Lugar and Bill Hudnut in the 1970s, but it’s hard to imagine Indy would be anything close to the sports city it has become without Slick Leonard’s fingerprints.
Slick Leonard is the most important sports figure in Indianapolis history. More than Peyton and Reggie, because without Slick, there’s a strong chance neither would’ve had professional careers in this city.
It’s impossible to overstate his impact. R.I.P. to an Indiana legend
— Derek Schultz (@Schultz975) April 13, 2021
We talked to Slick on the show many times over the years and I found our last conversation, when digging through the show archive. It was from almost exactly three years ago, when he spoke about the racial harmony of the early ABA Pacers:
I would assume the powers-that-be will be working towards a way to permanently honor and memorialize Slick in some sort of capacity. The fact that there isn’t already a statute downtown has always been perplexing to me. Regardless, you can’t say enough about Leonard’s impact on the sport of basketball in the state of Indiana and Indianapolis as a sports city.
R.I.P. to a basketball legend and an absolute icon.