Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Opinion

December 5, 2013

BENNETT: ABA’s record proves Leonard a legit Hall of Famer

He coached Pacers to 529 career victories

Bobby Leonard symbolized the feisty competitive flair of the old ABA.

His spirited coaching turned the Indiana Pacers into that innovative, long-lost league’s one true dynasty. Because the ABA lacked a national TV contract, much of America never saw “Slick” swirling in his loud sports jackets on the sidelines, hollering directions to talented players such as Mel Daniels, Roger Brown, Bob Netolicky, George McGinnis, Freddie Lewis and Billy Keller.  

For the life of me, I can’t understand why the red-white-and-blue league got disrespected so much for so long, compared to the establishment NBA. The ABA guys could go toe-to-toe with the NBA’s best. In fact, they did. In preseason NBA-ABA exhibition games played from 1971 until the two leagues merged in 1976, ABA teams won 79 games, compared to 76 by the NBA teams. That includes a 118-115 Pacer victory over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Milwaukee Bucks in ’74.

Leonard led Indiana to three ABA championships.

He belongs in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame at Springfield, Mass. Every NBA coach with more than two titles is in the Hall. Slick should be, too. Not only did he win those championships in a star-studded league — the ABA roster included Dr. J, Moses Malone, George Gervin, Rick Barry, Spencer Haywood, Connie Hawkins, Artis Gilmore, Dan Issel, Billy Cunningham and the aforementioned Pacer greats — Leonard also guided the franchise through the biased merger with NBA that nearly put the Pacers and the three other ABA surviving teams in long-term financial straits.

Again, Slick should be in the Hall.

The Terre Haute native offers some vivid recollections of those days in his new book, “Boom Baby! My Basketball Life in Indiana.” Some of his most colorful stories revolve around the rivalry between the NBA and the upstart league. Particularly, with former Boston Celtics coach and front-office exec Red Auerbach. There was no love loss between them. In “Boom,” Leonard recalls coaching Baltimore in the NBA against Auerbach’s Celtics. After Auerbach sent an enforcer into the game to rough up Baltimore standout Terry Dischinger (also a Terre Haute native), Leonard said he strode up to the Boston bench and told Red to “get [Jim Loscutoff] off of Dischinger or I’m going to beat your butt.”

As Leonard said, his career resume includes several years of coaching and playing in the NBA, so he knows the distinctions between the two leagues. Any lingering skepticism about the ABA’s quality can be answered by those head-to-head matchups. Not only did the ABA hold an edge in those games, but it posted a 31-17 advantage in 1975-76 — its final season before the merger.

“If you look at the record, we overwhelmed ’em,” Leonard said.

The Naismith Hall of Fame has taken notice of the ABA, which lasted from 1967-76. In 2011, its Election Review Committee created a new “direct-elect” category which focused attention on players who spent their best — or all — of their years in the ABA. Since that change, Pacers icons Daniels and Brown earned long overdue Hall inductions. Leonard also appeared on the ballot as a coach but wasn’t chosen. He’ll be on the ballot again this month. The induction Class of 2014 will be announced during the NBA All-Star Game Weekend in mid-February.

Each of the past three years, Hall voters have been apprised of Leonard’s career resume, stretching from his college years with the NCAA champion Indiana Hoosiers to his NBA playing and coaching career, his 529 victories with the Pacers in the ABA and NBA, and his quarter-century in the broadcast booth with the Pacers.

In this month’s interview, Leonard insisted he won’t fret if the Hall of Fame never calls his name, emphasizing, “I wasn’t a fair-haired boy, when it came to coaching.” His aggressive style was an offshoot of one particular desire, which mattered more to him than honors.

“I’ve had so many honors and everything in my career that [Hall of Fame induction] really isn’t a priority with me,” Leonard said. “It doesn’t bother me one way or the other, and I really don’t care. And I was like that as a coach. I wasn’t one of those coaches that was shaking hands all the time with the opposing coach. I went out there for one reason, and that was to win.”

And he did, at what any objective observer would say was the game’s highest level. For that, Leonard deserves a plaque in Springfield alongside pro basketball’s other former coaches with three or more championships — Phil Jackson, John Kundla, Pat Riley and, yes, Red Auerbach.

Mark Bennett writes for the (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Opinion
  • BRIAN HOWEY: World is rising up to meet Putin's thuggery Any illusions I had about the progressive nature of Vladimir Putin’s Russian regime quickly dissipated when I returned to my Moscow Grand Marriott room in August 2007. Upon opening the door, I was greeted with the spectacle of my papers and note pads

    July 28, 2014

  • LETTERS: Parents taking fun out of youth sports Parents taking fun out of youth sports I enjoyed reading the article, "Nation's youth sports leagues on troubling decline," by Bill Stanczykiewicz, CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute, and the last paragraph, a quote by Dr. Bill Dexter, president of t

    July 28, 2014

  • DICK WOLFSIE: A trip to end all trips My wife is planning a very exciting vacation to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary. This was a big surprise to me. Not the vacation part, but the 35 years. I thought it was 34. Right now she is on the back porch, the patio table stacked high with

    July 28, 2014

  • WEEKLY WRAP: Legal marriages should be honored Legal marriages should be honoredAn eager and probably nervous couple stands before a minister or a judge or a county clerk and exchanges vows, accepting the legal, moral and ethical obligations of a marriage.The couple has properly obtained a marria

    July 28, 2014

  • Right-to-work unnecessary It has been a crime for Indiana employers to enter into labor contracts that require workers to pay union dues since Feb. 1, 2012 — the day then-Gov. Mitch Daniels signed legislation making the Hoosier State a “right-to-work” state.Whether Indiana ke

    July 27, 2014

  • ED VASICEK: Happy marriages do not just happen My wife, Marylu, and I met through a mutual friend. My wife had been involved with Campus Crusade at her university, where my friend, Norman, also attended. One Christmas break, Norman invited his friends from church (including me) to a party — along

    July 27, 2014

  • LETTERS: Putting economics before responsibility Veterans, retirees need tax deductionsAre you receiving either an Indiana property tax Veterans Disability Deduction or an Over 65 Deduction? I was, however, this year I learned otherwise. My property taxes payable this year, as compared to the prope

    July 27, 2014

  • MICHAEL HICKS: Truth about inflation Almost nothing in economics seems to confuse people as much as monetary inflation. That confusion leaves an intellectual void into which some of the least credible ideas of the modern world crawl.Goods and services typically have a price dictated in

    July 27, 2014

  • CHEERS & JEERS: Livestock donations appreciated; what's a GMO? Thanks to folks at Kokomo BeachCarrie Giannakos, professional relations coordinator at Jarrell Orthodontics, sends this Cheer on behalf of the dental practice:“Dr. Kevin Jarrell and the team at Jarrell Orthodontics want to send a Cheer to the staff a

    July 26, 2014

  • RAY DAY: Some laws will do us in In my opinion, we have made laws that are contrary to what they were intended. And this writer is going to let you in on his thoughts about them. One of the things that has been processed incorrectly is the child abuse law. When you tell the parent h

    July 26, 2014

Featured Ads
Only on our website
AP Video
Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue Raw: Corruption Trial Begins for Former Va Gov. The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming UN Security Council Calls for Gaza Cease-fire Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating 13 Struck by Lightning on Calif. Beach Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Israel, Hamas Trade Fire Despite Truce in Gaza Italy's Nibali Set to Win First Tour De France Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge From Nest Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix 12-hour Cease-fire in Gaza Fighting Begins Raw: Bolivian Dancers Attempt to Break Record Raw: Israel, Palestine Supporters Rally in US Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
Obituaries
Poll