Results 1 to 8 of 8

Thread: Monteith: Nancy Leonard: Driving Force Behind Slick, Pacers

  1. #1
    TRADE MONTA Sandman21's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Area55 - Now, Then, Forever

    Sports Logo Sports Logo Sports Logo

    Default Monteith: Nancy Leonard: Driving Force Behind Slick, Pacers

    3 part article on that I think ranks amongst Monteith's best writing work. To make things easier to read and avoid the giant wall of text, I'll put each part into a separate post. The link also includes video of a channel 13 story on the Pacers telethon.

    It was the fall of 1950, in an introductory health class of some sort on the campus of Indiana University. The freshman from Terre Haute, a rough-hewn, fell-off-the-turnip-truck type of kid who made it a point to sit in the back of the room, wanted to get the attention of this girl from the other side of the room, not to mention the other side of the tracks. But how? He had never dated in high school, had hardly ever spoken to a girl, and certainly had no clue what to say to get one's attention, especially one like the prim and proper girl who walked past his seat each day.

    So he did the only thing he could think of: he stuck his foot in the aisle. Made her step over it, awkwardly, in that long dress that was fashionable for the day as she made her way to her seat in the front of the room. He offered her a grin. She returned a look of disgust.

    This is how great romances begin. Sometimes, anyway. A bold gesture by a shy kid, met with disdain from the sophisticated girl, who nevertheless falls prey to his naivety, sincerity and persistence. Sometimes they last, too. The opposite qualities attract, the talents and needs mesh, the devotion to family persists and the next thing you know, Bob and Nancy Leonard are hurtling toward their 60th year of marriage, most of them spent within the storms of professional basketball, not to mention the whirlwind of raising five children.

    He was the college All-American and member of a national championship basketball team at IU who went on to play for seven seasons in the NBA, one as a player-coach, then coach for another in the NBA and 12 in the ABA before embarking on a broadcasting career with the Pacers that has spanned nearly 30 seasons. That career took him from the Army to Minneapolis to Los Angeles to Chicago to Baltimore to Kokomo and finally, in 1969 to Carmel.

    She has been with him every step of the way, but much more than that. She has organized him, directed him, supported him and driven him – literally. Her left-brained discipline balanced his right-brained impulsiveness, producing the yin and yang that allowed their partnership to flourish for all these years, 60 of them come June. Who knows where Bob Leonard, the natural gambler nicknamed Slick because of his card-playing prowess, would be today if not for Nancy Root, the rock-solid girl from German stock who he tried to trip, and then fell for.

    “Don't let her kid you,” Slick says, stretched out in the reclining chair of their family room. “It's never worked. She is the most dominant person in the world. And I let her get by with it.”
    Nancy, sitting up straight in a nearby chair, laughs.

    “Are you afraid of her?” Slick is asked.

    “Yes,” he says softly, chuckling quietly.

    “Yeah, all 5-foot-4 of her,” Nancy says.

    Why has the marriage worked?

    “He was on the road a lot,” Nancy says, smiling. “I still like him, though.”

    Suddenly, Slick tears up a bit.

    “Look, you're crying,” Nancy says, laughing again.

    “Hey,” Slick says, growing serious. “She handles everything. Because I don't want to do it. I don't write checks and stuff like that. As a matter of fact, if something would happen to her, I don't know what the hell I'd do. I don't know nothing about nothing. I don't know how to run a computer. What do you call them? Yeah, computers. I have a little dinky cell phone. The simplest one. The only numbers I have in there are the five kids and her.”

    Where would he be without her? It's a good question. Here's another one: Where would the Pacers be?

    It took more than a foot in the aisle to get Nancy to walk the aisle. She had gone out a few times with another freshman member of IU's basketball team, Charlie Kraak, a few times before Slick went for the steal. When Leonard got word to her through friends that he wanted a date, she declined. It just wouldn't be right to go out with him, she thought, when she was dating his friend and teammate. Winning her over, then, would require a bit of deception.

    Nancy was studying in her dormitory room one Sunday afternoon – “I was kind of nerdy” – when she was interrupted by a knock on the door. Some of her friends from the dorm were outside, in need of a favor. There was a guy in the lobby whom they had set up with a blind date, they said, but the girl was nowhere to be found.

    “You've got to come and go out with him, we're in trouble!” they said.

    “I'm studying!” Nancy said.

    “Please, we'll never ask you for another favor, please do it!” they pleaded.

    Nancy walked into the dormitory lobby, and there was Slick. It had been a setup all along.

    “They thought they were so funny,” Nancy recalls.

    It was a little awkward between the two of them at first. Slick had no experience with girls because his high school coach, Howard Sharpe, had strict rules against dating, smoking and drinking – apparently considering females as toxic to a high school kid as alcohol and tobacco.

    “He had me brainwashed,” Slick says. “I never had a date in high school.”

    Nancy, meanwhile, had gone steady in high school, and knew all about how to conduct herself with boys – and how they should conduct themselves with her. That's why she was irritated when, the following week, Slick invited her to an IU basketball game, and told her to meet him at an entrance to the fieldhouse following the freshman game. They would watch the varsity game together. She complained to her friends about the stupid guy who didn't even have the manners to pick her up for a date and escort her to the game, but she went anyway with her roommate, Kathie.

    As she walked up the ramp to show her ticket to an usher, she heard a voice echoing from the public address speakers: “That's two by Leonard!” Moments later, as she settled into her seat, she heard it again. “That's another two by Leonard!”

    “Did you hear what they said?” she asked Kathie.


    “Please tell me that's not him.”

    It was him. Slick hadn't told her that he played on the basketball team. But there he was, running up and down the court in the freshman game. It took a long time for her to grasp what that meant. Nancy's father, who owned a construction company in South Bend, was a sports-minded man who had hosted the likes of Satchel Paige and Jesse Owens in their home while she was growing up, but she knew next to nothing about college basketball. When Slick talked to her excitedly at the end of their freshman school year about how he was going to be on the varsity team the following season, and that he might even be in the starting lineup, she couldn't believe it. Literally. She didn't know where the varsity players at a school such as Indiana came from, but surely they didn't come from the likes of Terre Haute, and they even more surely weren't her boyfriend.

    “What am I going to do?” she asked her father that summer. “Bob thinks he's going to be on the varsity team next year and get to play! He's going to be crushed.”

    Leonard started as a sophomore, and then as a junior starred on the team that won the NCAA championship in 1953. He, in fact, hit the game-winning free throw with 27 seconds left in the final game against Kansas in Kansas City, missing the first attempt but hitting the second in a 69-68 victory. Nancy watched the start of that game on the television set in her Tri Delta sorority lounge, but soon left to go to her room and listen on the radio. She put on her lucky pajamas and sat on the lucky spot on her bed, refusing to budge so that she wouldn't lose the game for all of Hoosier Nation.

    “I just knew I was helping,” she says now, laughing.

    Fans lined State Road 37 from Martinsville to Bloomington as the team returned by bus from the airport in Indianapolis the next day. She met the team downtown in Bloomington, and jumped into a convertible with him as the players were paraded to campus for a pep rally. By then, she knew all about basketball and its place in his life, and the life of seemingly the entire state of Indiana. But she had no idea of the life that awaited her.

    They married on June 15, 1954, one day after their graduation ceremony. Slick had been planning for the day a long time, probably from the time he first laid eyes on her, and he had made official his desire one afternoon during their sophomore year at IU when they were walking together through the Chemistry building.

    “Here, do you want this?” he asked, pulling a pin out of his pocket.

    “What do you mean?” she replied.

    “Will you wear it?” he asked.

    That was his proposal. She shouldn't have been surprised. As freshmen, after they had gone out a time or two, he called her on the phone after a date with a blunt question:

    “Will ya?”

    “Will I what?” she said.

    “Will ya?” he asked again.

    He meant would she go steady. He was a man of few words with women, having no clue what to say, but direct in his approach. She would tame him, though, as much as anyone could. She taught Sunday School at a Methodist church in Bloomington while in college, but he had never stepped inside a church before showing up on campus. She never asked him to go, but toward the end of their freshman year he told her would start attending with her the following year. And sure enough, when she walked outside to go to church that first Sunday her sophomore year, he was waiting for her. He later was baptized at her church, at the age of 19. He showed further devotion by hitch-hiking from Terre Haute to South Bend a couple of times their first summer apart.

    Marriage would throw Nancy's tidy, organized, disciplined world into upheaval, although boredom would never be a problem. Slick had to serve in the Army for two years after leaving college. Women were not allowed on the base in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., so she went back to Bloomington and taught at the high school, for an annual salary of $3,500. They moved to Minneapolis when he began his playing career with the Lakers in 1956. Teams traveled by train early in his career, and later by small aircraft, so more often than not she would be waiting for his return at the train station or airport, late at night and in the dead of winter, with their young kids bundled up. On that infamous evening in January of 1960 when the Lakers' 1930's-era twin-propeller plane lost its electrical power and flew aimlessly for hours in search of a landing spot before plunking down in a farmer's snowy field in Carroll, Iowa, Nancy made two trips to the auxiliary airport in Minneapolis to greet the team, only to be told to return home. She received news of the crash-landing via a telephone call from the wife of one of the other players.

    The Leonards had another travel adventure that summer when the Lakers franchise moved to Los Angeles, trading snow drifts for sandy beaches. With three young children, including 14-month old Billy, as well as Nancy's 17-year-old cousin filling up their station wagon, and all their personal belongings stuffed into a canvas container on the roof, the six of them headed West. The car's air conditioning broke down near Phoenix, in 100-plus degree heat, but the six-pack of Midwesterners made it to their rented home in Inglewood – hot, soggy and excited about their new life.

    They enjoyed L.A. The Lakers played at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, a then-new facility that was still being used by the Clippers in the late 1990s. The team attracted the interest of the Hollywood stars of the day, including Doris Day, Lauren Bacall, Bing Crosby, Peter Falk, Tony Curtis and Walter Matthau. Leonard still has home movies of his kids' first trip to Disneyland. After one season there, however, Leonard was claimed by the Chicago Packers in the NBA's expansion draft. Slick played a season for the Packers, averaging a career-high 16 points, and then became a player-coach the following season for the renamed Zephyrs.

    Nancy, meanwhile, went back to teaching, first as a substitute teacher at South Bend Washington High School. That meant taking over the occasional shop class. “I don't know what you're doing,” she told the students, “but I would appreciate it if you keep doing what you're doing, and for God's sake don't cut your finger off.” She later got back in her lane and took over a business class for a semester. She lived in South Bend with her daughter Terry, while Slick lived on the south side of Chicago.

    The Chicago franchise moved to Baltimore for the following season, 1963-64, becoming the Bullets, and the Leonard were on the move again. Slick was strictly a coach then, guiding a young team that included six rookies, along with the likes of former Purdue star Terry Dischinger, former IU star Walt Bellamy, future NBA coaches Gene Shue and Kevin Loughery and a future executive, Rod Thorn.

    That group was more eclectic than electric, finishing 31-49, but life continued to be interesting. Nancy sat along the baseline at the end of the court for home games, next to the city's superintendent of schools. He told her one night that he needed a business teacher, and the next thing she knew she was teaching an afternoon session, from 12:30 to 4:30. Sometimes when she returned to their latest rented home at the end of the day, Slick was running the vacuum cleaner. At work, he was the boss. At home, he was a team player.

    She also took over the driving responsibilities after a harrowing ride home one night following a homecourt loss. Slick was furious with himself for a strategy gone awry and driving recklessly as he relived the game, barely missing cars along the highway. She decided from that day on she would take the wheel to and from games, a tradition that continues today.

    Most importantly, Slick learned of a new off-season job opportunity that winter. While eating dinner one night with Green Bay Packers lineman Bob Skoronski, a friend from IU who was in town for a game against the Colts, he was encouraged to seek out a job with Jostens, a company that sold high school class rings and other graduation-related materials. That led, in a roundabout way, to him getting a job with Jostens' primary competitor, Herff Jones, the following summer after the Bullets let him go as their coach.

    The Leonards settled in Kokomo. Assuming they were done with their transient existence in basketball, they bought their first house, with an acre of land, four miles outside of town. Slick worked his territory in central Indiana, calling on the high schools from Indianapolis northward. It was the perfect job for a former player and coach from Indiana. Most of the school principals were former players and/or coaches themselves, so his name helped open doors. Over time, he took a large share of business from Jostens.

    While Slick worked his territory of 58 schools, Nancy continued to live in overdrive. She was the head of the Business department at Taylor High School and helped run the administrative side of Slick's business. The kids were enlisted to help package the items to be delivered to the schools. One summer, she enrolled in an eight-week summer session in Bloomington to work toward her Masters degree. She and her daughter Terry lived in an apartment from Monday through Friday, and on weekends drove home to be with Slick and the boys.

    “We were having a blast,” she recalls. “We never thought about (being out of basketball), because back then there were (only nine) NBA teams. You had your tour and then you went on to something else. That's what just about everybody did.”

    After four years, however, basketball beckoned again, courtesy of an upstart team in an upstart league. The Pacers were formed in 1967 on the heels of a $6,000 entry fee into the ABA. Slick had too good of a thing going to give it up to coach the team, but agreed to run the open tryout camp with another Indiana high school legend, Clyde Lovellette, in June. He also attended some home games that first season. When the Pacers started 2-7 their second season despite the off-season acquisition of center Mel Daniels, Larry Staverman was fired and Leonard was approached again about coaching the team.

    Slick wasn't optimistic about the survival of the crazy league with the red, white and blue ball and the three-point line, but he had seen enough to be intrigued and he knew the Pacers had talent. And, he and Nancy owed on the new furniture in their home. The Pacers offered him somewhere in the vicinity of $20,000 to coach the team the rest of the season, and allowed to keep his job with Herff Jones. At the very least, he figured, the additional salary would cover the furniture tab and then he could get back to his business of selling class rings after the league folded.

    Lo and behold, the league lasted for nine seasons, thanks largely to the success of the Pacers, which was thanks largely to Leonard's coaching. They finished strong his first season, reaching the championship round of the playoffs in 1969, and then won titles in 1970, '72 and '73. He played it safe, though, holding on to his Herff Jones job through the mid-seventies. The team often practiced in the evening his first season so he could work his territory during the day. As time went on and basketball became more the focus of their lives, Nancy took over more of it, making many of the calls on schools herself to measure kids for rings and fill out orders.

    “You think, How did I do that?” Slick says now, speaking for both of them. “But when you're young, it's a piece of cake.”

    The drives between Indianapolis and Kokomo grew old quickly, though, particularly those to and from the airport. By the end of their first season with the Pacers, the Leonards were willing to ante up on the ABA's chances enough to build a home in Carmel. Slick talked a developer into selling a double lot in a new neighborhood for $8,100 and they ordered up a five-bedroom home. They moved in on June 17, 1969, and have lived there ever since.
    "Nobody wants to play against Tyler Hansbrough NO BODY!" ~ Frank Vogel

    "And David put his hand in the bag and took out a stone and slung it. And it struck the Philistine on the head and he fell to the ground. Amen. "

  2. The Following 4 Users Say Thank You to Sandman21 For This Useful Post:

  3. #2
    TRADE MONTA Sandman21's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Area55 - Now, Then, Forever

    Sports Logo Sports Logo Sports Logo

    Default Re: Monteith: Nancy Leonard: Driving Force Behind Slick, Pacers

    Nancy was a behind-the-scenes influence throughout the Pacers' ABA seasons, helping where needed in an official, unpaid role but, according to those involved with the franchise, not intrusive. She didn't offer her opinion on lineups and strategy, or try to mentor the players. She did travel with the team for occasional road games in the playoffs, and was there for all three of the championship-clinching games – in Los Angeles in 1970, New York in '72 and Louisville in '73. One of her favorite memories is standing in the tunnel that led from the Pacers' locker room to the court before Game 6 in L.A., nervously awaiting. Roger Brown, the last player out, sauntered by and said, “You look like you're about to go to the death chamber.” Then he went out and scored 45 points to end the series.

    The players from that era remember her as an asset rather than a mere onlooker or a distraction, as spouses have been known to be. Daniels recalls seeing her standing and looking like she was ready to rush onto the court after fights broke out, which wasn't an unusual occurrence in those days.

    “She was Super Mom to all of us,” says Daniels, the two-time league MVP whose jersey is retired by the Pacers. “Not in a nagging sense, just by doing a lot of little things. She was part of us.”

    She had no job title then, and most of her contributions went unnoticed to the public. The Pacers, indeed the entire ABA, were in survival mode, and everyone pitched in where they could to keep it alive. Nancy once drove the team mascot, Dancing Harry, to a game in Louisville in a recreational vehicle by herself. She also was instrumental in the formation of the Pacemates, pro basketball's first “cheerleader” squad. Sandy Knapp, who had been promoted from a Pacesetter – the original group that acted as escorts for honorary ball boys and dignitaries – into the front office had taken the idea to Nancy, who had been a cheerleader sponsor at her first teaching job in Bloomington after graduating from IU. The initial Pacemate practice sessions were conducted in the Leonards' then-unfinished basement, and Nancy coached them.

    “She was not going to let them go out on the floor without them being as prepared as possible,” Knapp says.

    Nancy's role changed from unofficial and important to official and absolutely vital when the Pacers were absorbed into the NBA in 1976. It came about by accident, really. She's not sure why, but she had attended a meeting of the ownership group after the “merger.” She recalls they had decided not to bring back the previous general manager, and were fretting over how they were going to make the adjustment to the new league. The ABA, having been a loose collection of teams bent on survival, had flown by the seat of its pants, but the NBA was established and corporate. There were books full of rules and regulations for teams to follow, with fines for every malfeasance.

    Procedure didn't frighten Nancy Leonard, who had taught school, run a household and helped run a business – sometimes all at once. Slick at various times in the ABA years had opened a boys camp and a restaurant, and she was a partner in the operation of both.

    “I don't know what you guys are afraid of,” she blurted out to the owners. “It's just the NBA. We've been in the ABA for all these years. It's basically the same thing. There's rules to follow, you've got drafting, scheduling, ticket sales... it's the same thing.”

    A silence fell over the room, and then someone said, “Why don't you do it?”

    “Are you kidding me?” she asked.

    They weren't.

    “They knew they wouldn't have to pay her nothing,” Slick says today.

    She was paid, but the salary was hardly up to the standard of other league executives. She was billed as the assistant general manager, and it wasn't an empty title. She was fully in charge of the front office, likely the first woman in the history of professional spots to hold such a responsibility. She downplays it all today, but those around her do not. Slick was the coach and general manager, and made all the basketball decisions. She directed the office of 13 employees and attended league meetings. It might be surprising to some that she was accepted into the formerly male bastion of general managers, but not to those who know her. She tends to command respect.

    “Even (crusty Celtics general manager) Red Auerbach was super-nice,” she recalls. “They were all very respectful. I still see a lot of them around.”

    She held her own. She also was one of the primary advocates of the three-point shot that had been instrumental to the ABA's success. It was finally instituted in her fourth and final season as an executive. But the job was more difficult than she could have imagined when she had first blurted out “it's just the NBA” to the ownership group. All those rules added up to a lot of work.

    As respected as she was, she feared her reception from the all-male group of local media members who had covered the team in the ABA. There were going to be new, more restrictive rules for covering the team, and she wondered if they would follow her direction. But she got an early boost from Indianapolis Star sports editor Bob Collins, the lead columnist for the state's largest newspaper. He called her one day and invited her to lunch. “Oh, no, here it comes,” she said to herself. They met at Charlie and Barneys, a restaurant between the Pacers office and the Star.

    “I don't want you to worry,” he told her. “You know exactly what you're doing and you'll do a good job. If anybody gives you any trouble at all, call me and I'll take care of it.”

    Nobody really gave her trouble. Not more than once, anyway. One of her favorite memories of those years is from a game against Boston at Market Square Arena, perhaps the first NBA regular season game the Pacers played, the season-opener on Oct. 21, 1976. She was sitting underneath the basket in her customary baseline seat beforehand when a referee approached and said Auerbach wanted the music turned down. The Pacers were violating a league rule, he said. It just so happened she had read all the rules and regulations, and knew better. She pulled out her booklet, handed it to the referee and said, “Take this to Red, and if he can show me where there's something in there about music, we'll turn it down.” When the referee walked to the other end of the court and passed along Nancy's message, he threw down the book with disgust. Not another word was said about it.

    Amid the chaos and frustration of keeping a poorly-financed franchise alive, the Leonards were raising five chidren, separated by 14 years. The oldest, Terry, now a highly decorated third-grade teacher of more than 30 years in South Bend, helped keep her four younger brothers in line with Nancy-like efficiency, posting a checklist on the refrigerator for the boys to record their chores. A couple of women were hired to help clean the home and transport the kids, but Slick and Nancy were never far from their parental obligations. Nancy was probably the only NBA front office executive who drove an Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon, not to mention the only one who made Thanksgiving dinner for the family.

    Sure, there was the time she was working at the office downtown and forgot to pick up her son, Tommy, at grade school, leaving him sitting out front of the school until 6 p.m. in that cell phone-less era. But that was by far the exception. Terry and the personal secretaries kept things flowing during the daytime, and Slick and Nancy handled things in the evenings and on non-game nights. It was busy, even chaotic at times, but it worked.

    Nancy made sure of that. Slick might have been the ultimate macho coach who threatened players in practice, threw ball racks at referees during games and lifted quick-triggered timekeepers out of their seat at the scorer's table. But at home, she was usually the coach, the woman who made dinner, balanced the books and made the family trains run on time.

    “They each had their strong points and that's the role they played,” Terry says. “Neither one tried to step into the other's major interest. She made it look effortless, looking back on it. She has a lot of energy anyway. She's just as competitive as my dad is, so she had the perfect personality to keep those plates spinning in the air.

    “We lived a very normal life. Our life was no different than the lives of our friends. If you walked into our house, it wasn't the atmosphere I would imagine in the homes of some professional athletes now.”

    Evidence of that was their listed telephone number. Although Slick was as big a sports celebrity as the city had during the 1970s, and Nancy had become recognized in her own right, they wanted their friends from out of town, and their kids' friends at school, to be able to reach the household if necessary.

    “We didn't think we were such a big deal,” she says.

    If she had simply worked behind the scenes and served as an assistant general manager for four years, her contributions would be significant. It can be legitimately claimed, however, that the Pacers owe their very existence in Indianapolis to her.

    Slick led the Pacers to seven winning seasons and playoff appearances, four trips to the league finals and three championships in his first seven seasons as coach. The last one in the ABA, however, brought a losing record (39-45) as the core players who had starred on the championship teams grew old and departed or were traded away.

    The move to a new league energized the fan base, but only temporarily. The attendance average jumped from 7,615 in the final ABA season to 10,129 in the inaugural NBA season, but one of the franchise owners, Bill Eason, had put up $3 million for the entry fee into the NBA, and the cost of doing business had gone up dramatically in Market Square Arena. The local ownership group at the time, officially known as Pacers L.P., was struggling to keep it together.

    Upon the conclusion of the first NBA season, when the Pacers finished 36-46, the ownership group announced it needed to sell 8,000 season tickets before the following season to have the operating capital to stay afloat. According to those who worked for the franchise then, it was a genuine crisis rather than a marketing ploy. The team's credit card had not been paid off, and was no longer being accepted. Front office employees had gone without paychecks for between four and six weeks and were working in what Knapp describes as a climate of “constant tension and anxiety.” Slick was brought in to give a locker room-like pep talk. Knapp, recalling it as “a straight shot of adrenaline,” recorded it in case it needed to be replayed to re-energize the troops. Even the players had agreed to accept a delay in being paid – all but one, that is. Len Elmore's agent insisted that he be paid on time, or he would become a free agent because of the breach of contract.

    The owners were in desperate need of cash, and had the promise of an additional $750,000 investment if the fans would make a financial show of faith. That, combined with the income of the ticket sales would raise about $3 million to guarantee the team's operation for the following season. According to the local newspapers, the marketing department had sold 5,720 season tickets in the three months since the season ended, but it needed another push to reach the magical 8,000 figure.

    From her participation in the league meetings, Nancy knew of the growth that was coming to the NBA because of better television contracts and expansion. She also knew Indianapolis would never get another NBA team if it lost the Pacers. Her last and best hope was to simply put the team's urgent needs before the public and ask for help. The best way to do that was to conduct a telethon to raise money and sell tickets. But it needed to happen quickly, and the obvious time to do it was over the July 4 holiday, when people were off work. Only problem was, the end of June was approaching. She would have seven days to put it all together.

    She gathered her 13-person staff and laid it out.

    “Hey, guys, we're in trouble,” she said. “We can't lollygag around until August or September, we have to sell season tickets now.”

    It was a defining moment for the Pacers, and for Nancy Leonard. All those years of attending basketball games with Slick had helped hone her competitive instincts, but she had them all along. Back in high school, she had been the only girl in the band's cornet section. Determined not to be outdone by the boys, she made it a point of earning the first-chair honor. This was merely another challenge. Running a busy household had been provided training as well. She knew how to meet a challenge.

    “I just asserted myself,” she says. “We didn't have a choice.”

    One of the first calls to organize the telethon went to Dr. Charles Rushmore, who worked for Indiana Bell and had experience with the Jerry Lewis Labor Day telethon. He said it couldn't be done, that the standard prep time for telethons was six months, but he agreed to help where he could. Another call went to Don Tillman, the programming director at WTTV-Channel 4, the local independent station that could clear room on its programming schedule on short notice. He agreed to air the event and provide all the necessary equipment at no charge.

    “These two men gave us a crash course in Telethon 101,” Knapp recalls.

    Every member of the Pacers front office went into a panic-driven fury, making arrangements and asking for help from local merchants and media outlets. The 500 Ballroom at the Convention Center was obtained. Local musical groups and other entertainers were rounded up to perform, at no charge. Arby's donated food for the workers. Front office members and volunteers manned the telephones to take pledges from callers. The team's trainer, David Craig, cut short his vacation and drove back overnight from Maine to take calls and pitch in where needed. Some of the players manned the phones for stretches of time, including Dave Robisch and Billy Knight.

    All of the money raised was to be placed in an escrow account and would be returned if the pledges fell short of the goal. The cash collected would be used to purchase tickets to be given to charities. Rookie camp, meanwhile, was delayed until the franchise's fate was determined.

    “I guess that sometime on July 4th I'll know whether it's time to drink champagne or just cry,” Slick told an Associated Press reporter before it began.

    The Save the Pacers Telethon ran from 10 p.m. on July 3 to 2:30 p.m. on the Fourth. Channel 4 broadcast the entirety of it, and Channels 6 and 13 broadcast portions of it. Think of that: three local stations, all carrying the same program. On-air personalities from all three stations, as well as Channel 8, helped emcee the proceedings at various times. Taped pleas from the likes of Governor Otis Bowen, Indiana coach Bob Knight, Purdue coach Fred Schaus, ABC sportscaster Chris Schenkel and former Pacers star George McGinnis – who had jumped to the NBA two years earlier because of the franchise's inability to pay his market value – were played for the television viewing audience.

    Slick led the charge publicly, pep-talking the viewers into donating. Nancy supervised behind the scenes. Most of the calls brought donations of $10 or $20. Some people brought in cash personally, and telethon officials were shown on television pulling bills out of a large glass bowl and counting them on the floor of the ballroom. A few kids literally offered their piggy banks, or went through their neighborhoods to collect donations. Nickels, dimes, anything. A newspaper account later estimated the in-person cash donation at $30,000.

    “It was a remarkable experience, to tell you the truth,” Knapp says. “I've never been part of such an emotional roller coaster. It felt like time was standing still. It was suspended somehow. You worked so many hours, you were physically exhausted and emotionally drained. Everything felt like it was technicolor. Your senses were on fire.”

    They appeared to be close to reaching their goal with a couple of hours still to go when an accounting error was discovered. Slick took the microphone at 12:40 p.m. to make the announcement.

    “We had a tabulation error of 822 season tickets – and we just found it,” he said, as if addressing his team in a late-game timeout huddle. “Our actual count is 6,730, as of 12:25. We've got an hour and 50 minutes to go.”

    According to a Channel 13 broadcast report, some fans in the ballroom thought that bit of drama might have been staged to attract more donations, but its reporter stated Pacers officials seemed genuinely concerned. Tom Binford, a member of the ownership group but best known locally as the Chief Steward of the Indianapolis 500 and President and CEO of Indiana National Bank, went on television to ask businesses for larger donations. Business owners were citizens too, he said, and they also benefited from the economic stimulus the Pacers provided.

    Finally, five or 10 minutes before the telethon was to go off the air, Nancy stepped forward with an announcement.

    “Bob,” she said, her voice cracking from fatigue and emotion. “We're at 8,028.”

    The fans in attendance “burst into bedlam,” as the next day's newspaper account put it. A uniformed Pacemate did what a uniformed Pacemate was supposed to do – clap and kick her feet into the air. Mayor William Hudnut, standing behind the Leonards and also wearing a red sports coat, smiled broadly and clapped his hands above his head. Slick, at Nancy's urging, sang Back Home Again in Indiana.

    The Pacers would stay in Indianapolis. For at least another year.

    It had been a grassroots movement that reached all the way to the city's heart and soul, including its youngest fans. According to newspaper accounts, 11-year-old John Hargreaves from Plainfield had gone through his neighborhood with two friends and collected $18 door-to-door. Seven-year-old Carl Cushingberry had collected $15. A nine-year-old girl, Teresa Lynn, gave Slick a note that included $5.

    “That was when I cried,” Nancy says today. “We were right at the number and these kids start coming in with coffee cans. They had gone up and down the street and collected coins. That kind of told me what the community thought about the Pacers, even people who couldn't buy season tickets.”
    "Nobody wants to play against Tyler Hansbrough NO BODY!" ~ Frank Vogel

    "And David put his hand in the bag and took out a stone and slung it. And it struck the Philistine on the head and he fell to the ground. Amen. "

  4. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to Sandman21 For This Useful Post:

  5. #3
    TRADE MONTA Sandman21's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Area55 - Now, Then, Forever

    Sports Logo Sports Logo Sports Logo

    Default Re: Monteith: Nancy Leonard: Driving Force Behind Slick, Pacers

    The franchise saved, the Leonards returned to the dirty work of the day to day operations. Although the bills could be paid, the financial issues didn't magically disappear because of the telethon. Slick was the coach and general manager, and handled all basketball matters. Nancy took care of the rest. Neither trespassed on the other's territory, and both commanded respect.

    “She was the iron fist in a velvet glove,” Knapp says. “She was strong, but boy, she did it in a way that half the time you don't even know you were being punched. She was very fair, but she was tough as nails. She wasn't some sweet mother-housewife taking care of the paperwork. She was running the ship. She always gave the impression she had everything under control, and I always had the feeling that I shouldn't bring any of my personal problems to the office.

    “She's a perfectionist. You just simply had to do things the right way, and if you didn't do it right you did it over again. I swear, she was the Energizer bunny before there was one. She just never stopped. ”

    Darnell Hillman, who played five ABA seasons and one NBA season with the Pacers, saw her in action as often as any of the players.

    “She expressed herself,” he says “She wasn't derogatory, but she would let you know what worked in the past, and how things should be done. Nancy has a presence about her. She doesn't come in and take over the show, but you'll certainly know who she is. She's not loud, but before the meeting's over, you'll know who she is.”

    Hillman benefited from her decisive manner when the NBA put on its first slam-dunk contest in the Pacers' first season in the league, copying the ABA's event from the previous year. It was conducted like a tournament, with a contestant from each team going head-to-head with another one over a period of several weeks. The field was gradually reduced to two survivors, and they competed at halftime of the final game of the championship series between Portland and Philadelphia in June.

    Hillman won it, over Golden State's Larry MacNeil. But his selection to represent the Pacers hadn't been an obvious one. Although he carried the nickname Dr. Dunk because of his jumping ability, he was 27 at the time. Two of his teammates, Dan Roundfield (23) and Mel Bennett (22), were younger and equally athletic. A dunk-off to determine the team's representative might have been in order.

    Recalls Hillman: “Nancy walked into practice one day while we were shooting, explained the contest, and said 'Darnell's going to represent the team. Any questions?' We all looked at one another and said no.”

    Other administrative decisions were far more serious and immediate. The infamous Blizzard of 1978 struck on Jan. 25, the day after the Pacers had played Cleveland at MSA. The Pacers were due to fly out that day for a game at Cleveland to be played the following day, and gathered at the airport. The weather forecast was increasingly ominous, however, so Nancy called the league office. She was told the team had to get on the plane if it left for Cleveland, and that a $50,000 fine would be levied on the franchise if it didn't show for the game. Nancy feared – correctly, it turned out – the team would be stuck in Cleveland for a few days if the blizzard turned out to be as bad as predicted, at a great financial cost to the franchise. Defying the league's advice, she called the traveling party back from the airport. The game was later postponed and rescheduled.

    Bill York, the head of the Pacers stat crew for the from the founding of the franchise in 1967, as well as the supervisor of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway media room for many years, isn't surprised by that story. He compares Nancy to Tony Hulman, the former owner of the Speedway. She, like he, solved problems efficiently by bringing questions to department heads, listening to their ideas, and then acting accordingly and quickly. No ego hangups, no office politics, no slacking, just clear-headed thinking for the good of the organization.

    “She and Sandy Knapp ran everything,” York says of the Pacers' early NBA years. “Nobody questioned what they did. And all of her ideas seemed to be good ideas.”

    Throughout the ABA seasons, when she contributed in an unofficial capacity, and then in the early NBA years, when she was on the payroll, Nancy and Slick were responsible for establishing and maintaining a family atmosphere that was unique to the Pacers. She took personal interest in the players and their families. She and Slick had a couple of parties each year at their home for the players, stat crew and front office members, or they attended parties hosted by others. They were events where, as Hillman says, “you could get to know someone in street clothes.” Even today, she remains closely connected to the players from those early teams, and their families. Whenever a former Pacer dies – such as Roundfield last year and John Barnhill a month ago, she is among the first to know and to reach out to that player's wife or other family members.

    Many people deserve credit for the fact the Pacers franchise still exists in Indianapolis. The original owners got it off the ground and nursed it along in its infancy, barely making ends meet. A man in Lafayette, Lyn Treece, put up $100,000 to buy Mel Daniels from the Minnesota Muskies, which, combined with the addition of Slick's coaching, transformed the team from average to champions. Mel and Herb Simon bought the franchise to keep it from moving to Sacramento in 1983.

    Nancy Leonard belongs in the group of saviors as well, both for initiating and directing the life-saving telethon, nursing the operation along in the early years in both paid and unpaid capacities and helping to establish a family atmosphere unique to professional basketball. But jobs in professional sports tend to be transient. The Leonards already knew that, and had in fact enjoyed an improbable 12-year run with the Pacers, but the team's financial strains and the inevitable detrimental impact on the won-loss record was bound to bring changes.

    Slick and Bill Eason, who had put up the $3 million entry fee into the NBA, had once flown to Florida to meet with former Kentucky Colonels owner John Y. Brown, who had received $3 million in the “merger” agreement between the NBA and ABA, to try to convince him to buy the Pacers, without success. When the franchise eventually landed in the hands of Californian Sam Nassi, along with Jerry Buss, everything changed. Executives were brought in from other cities, and the once-proud family-run organization became a mini-corporation, run by out-of-towners who thought they knew better.

    It was the antithesis of how the Leonards had done it, and the two sides clashed. Slick recalls becoming so angry once that he backed up one of the execs against a wall and physically threatened him. He was more relieved than anything to have to leave the organization in 1980, and Nancy, of course, went with him. They lived apart from basketball for awhile, just as they had done before the ABA was formed, and tended to their family and business interests.

    When Slick was brought back as a broadcast analyst in the mid-1980s, though, Nancy happily returned, too. This time as a fan. He established a new career on the radio, and his signature “Boom Baby!” declaration after every Pacers three-pointer has become part of the state's basketball lexicon. She remains a presence, too. But while he tends to keep a low profile, she works the room.

    “She knows 20 times more people down there than I do,” he says.

    Her pregame routine starts with a dinner salad in the Best Locker Room, always at the same table – usually with longtime friend Nancy Keene, but sometimes with a grandchild or other friend. She then takes a pass through the media room to visit with old friends and pick up the game notes that are distributed to reporters. She also stops in one of the private rooms on the floor level reserved for family members and friends of the players and other team officials. Eventually, she takes her seat in the front row behind the scorer's table at midcourt.

    Even as a fan, she is no less competitive or concerned with decorum at games than when she was in charge of the front office. Just ask Derrick Rose. During Game 3 of the Pacers' first-round playoff series against Chicago at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in 2011, the Bulls points guard responded to a heckler with profanity, within earshot of children, while reporting to the scorer's table. At halftime of Game 4, Nancy was waiting for him in the tunnel leading to the Bulls' locker room, and scolded him loudly as he walked by.

    Although her children have long since moved out on their own, she hasn't slowed down much. She has, by her estimation, served on eight to 10 boards for church and charity organizations, and volunteered for several more groups. She's currently on a board for the Methodist church. Many years ago, at Collins' urging, she helped start a home for women in recovery from alcohol addiction called First Step Inc., for which she served as President.

    Her primary occupation since leaving the Pacers has been as a real estate agent with F.C. Tucker. Her clients have included several team employees, including coach Frank Vogel, broadcaster Mark Boyle and players such as Jeff Foster, Brad Miller, Anthony Johnson, Al Harrington and Derrick McKey.

    Vogel's wife, Jenifer, and Nancy became close friends through the process of finding their home when they moved to Indianapolis in 2007. They still joke about setting up an arranged marriage between the Vogels' daughter and the Leonards' grandson.

    “She's a good negotiator and has great savvy in the industry,” Vogel says. “She was really very helpful.”

    She has kept the business of family running, too. Slick admits to never having seen one of his paychecks, because Nancy has always taken care of the finances. He can relax, knowing everything is handled.

    “I said just so I leave enough that you can live in dignity when I go,” he jokes. “So, boy, she rat-holed everything she could.”

    Slick and Nancy have both had serious health issues in recent years. Slick had a heart attack in Portland on a road trip in 2003 and missed several weeks of games. Then in March of 2011, he went into cardiac arrest on the team bus following a win in New York. He was given four electric-shock jolts to his heart before he was revived. Medics usually give up after two and pronounce the patient dead, but the Pacers' assistant trainer, Carl Eaton, ordered them to try again. “He's tough!” Eaton shouted. “Keep trying!” Slick also fell while visiting Larry Bird in 2012, hitting his head on a concrete surface outside of Bird's home in Nashville, Ind., and broke some ribs.

    Nancy's scare came in 2009 on the Pacers' return flight from China, where it had played preseason games. Reacting to her prescription meds and the long flight, she passed out. The plane made an emergency landing in Minneapolis, where he was hospitalized. She later had a pacemaker implanted.

    The Leonards have no plans to back away now, though, certainly not with the Pacers contending for a title again after all these years, and likely not ever. One of Slick's pieces of advice to players is, “Don't get off the bus.” In other words, stay associated with the game for as long as you can, because nothing else is as exciting. Slick and Nancy are too much a part of the Pacers, and the Pacers are too much a part of them, for either of them to step away voluntarily.

    How long can they go? Slick seems invulnerable, and Nancy has bloodlines in her favor. Her grandmother lived to 104, and an uncle to 103. They still live as independently as possible. Not that many years ago, Slick could be found on the roof making repairs. Nancy still gets on her hands and knees on summer days, pulling weeds when the need arises and the weather cooperates.

    They will remain a presence at Bankers Life Fieldhouse for as long as they can, hoping for one last championship to complete the cycle.

    And Nancy will drive.
    "Nobody wants to play against Tyler Hansbrough NO BODY!" ~ Frank Vogel

    "And David put his hand in the bag and took out a stone and slung it. And it struck the Philistine on the head and he fell to the ground. Amen. "

  6. The Following 4 Users Say Thank You to Sandman21 For This Useful Post:

  7. #4
    Member CoolHand's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Central Indiana

    Sports Logo Sports Logo Sports Logo

    Default Re: Monteith: Nancy Leonard: Driving Force Behind Slick, Pacers

    This article brought tears to my eyes.... as a kid in the 70's I have vague memories of some of the telethon... I'm so glad that everyone came together to preserve the organization. I can't imagine Indianapolis without it.

  8. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to CoolHand For This Useful Post:

  9. #5
    On the Vogel Wagon gummy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2006

    Sports Logo Sports Logo Sports Logo Sports Logo

    Default Re: Monteith: Nancy Leonard: Driving Force Behind Slick, Pacers

    This is awesome. Everyone knows about Slick of course but not so much about Nancy. Thanks for posting!
    "Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better." - Albert Camus

    "Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well." - Voltaire

    "Everyone's values are defined by what they will tolerate when it is done to others." - William Greider

  10. The Following User Says Thank You to gummy For This Useful Post:

  11. #6
    Member CableKC's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    San Jose, CA ( 1123, 6536, 5321 )

    Sports Logo

    Default Re: Monteith: Nancy Leonard: Driving Force Behind Slick, Pacers

    This is really an outstanding read.

    The articles really brought a warm feeling to my heart and even a slight tear to my eye ( I'm sitting next to my Wife now at the airport and don't want to cry in front of her ). I never knew about her and her close ties to the Pacers Organization.
    Ash from Army of Darkness: Good...Bad...I'm the guy with the gun.

  12. The Following User Says Thank You to CableKC For This Useful Post:

  13. #7
    Member BobbyMac's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Greenfield IN

    Sports Logo Sports Logo Sports Logo

    Default Re: Monteith: Nancy Leonard: Driving Force Behind Slick, Pacers

    I remember the Telethon and splitting 2 season tickets with my attorney and several other couples. We got 10 games. We were in the 3rd row behind the visitors bench. Frankly I was on the verge of tears thru out the whole series of articles. I have been a big fan from the first Pacers game.

  14. The Following 2 Users Say Thank You to BobbyMac For This Useful Post:

  15. #8

    Default Re: Monteith: Nancy Leonard: Driving Force Behind Slick, Pacers

    I thought the second article was the best one, it is amazing since then there hasn't been a Woman General Manager. You would think some players from the WNBA, would make exception GMs or coaches in this league, just have to get over the hump of that stigma.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts