Former Los Angeles Lakers player and head coach Frank Vogel’s mentor Bobby “Slick” Leonard passed away at the age of 88 on Tuesday.
Leonard earned legendary status in the Indiana basketball circles. He graduated from Indiana University having led the team to the 1953 NCAA championship. The point guard then spent five seasons with the Minneapolis Lakers, including its first campaign in Los Angeles in 1960-61, after being drafted by the Baltimore Bullets in 1954.
Leonard coached the Indiana Pacers for 12 years, winning the ABA championship three times in the early ‘70s before the ABA-NBA merger. After retiring, the Indiana-native remained closely tied to the franchise doing color commentary on TV and, as Vogel said, looking after new members of the organization. “Slick really took me under his wing as a young coach when I took over with the Pacers,” he said ahead of the 101-93 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.
“My first head coaching opportunity and he provided great friendship and support. I also want to acknowledge Nancy and the love that she showed my wife, my daughters, myself and my whole family over the years even up until recently. We’ve maintained this friendship and love. I want to acknowledge her.
“The 66 years of marriage to Slick is just a love story to be admired by all. Let that serve as great role models for all of us. Just want to send my thoughts and prayers to Nancy and the whole Leonard family. I’ll be coaching tonight’s game with a heavy heart.”
Leonard taught Vogel the importance of compassion and empathy toward players, the Lakers coach said. He would often seek advice from “Slick” — the winningest ABA coach — even after leaving the Pacers in 2016. “He just used to say, ‘Never get too high and never get too low with wins and losses, but also with players.’ Never get too down on a guy,” Vogel said.
“Everybody is human. They’re going to make mistakes and have stretches where they play well and where they don’t. He was big on just keeping an even keel with those sort of things. … Every time I saw him I said, ‘What are you seeing? What do you see with our team? Where do we need to get better? What do you like? What don’t you like?’
“I always used to draw on his opinion with what we were doing.”
Leonard admired Lakers’ defensive mindset
Vogel revealed Leonard had watched Lakers games and showed admiration for the team’s defensive mindset. “Even with our Lakers teams,” he said. “I saw him last year. ‘What do you think of our team?’ He would always watch. He would always tell me, ‘I’m watching your games every night. I’m watching you.’
“He mentioned how he loves how we’re defending. He said, ‘No surprise you got those guys defending.’ But nothing detailed about how to use LeBron James or anything like that (laughs). It was just love and support. ‘I love the job you are doing with your guys.’”
And he added: “It’s something that I cherish very much in my life. I’m going to miss him a ton.”
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