Wabash Valley Sports
Slick makes it official
The wait, finally, is over for Bobby "Slick" Leonard.
The Indiana basketball icon enjoyed a long-overdue enshrinement into the Naismith Hall of Fame as a member of the noteworthy class of 2014.
Leonard is the winningest coach in ABA history, having compiled an overall ABA coaching record of 387-270. He led the Indiana Pacers to ABA titles in 1970, 1972 and 1973, along with finals appearances in 1969 and 1975.
"I may not be the oldest guy that's ever been inducted into the Hall of Fame, but I bet I'm in the top 5," Leonard joked during a 26-minute speech that included stories from throughout his life. "I have had a love affair with the fans and the players in Indiana. We call ourselves Hoosiers. I wish it will last forever."
Stern, who just completed a 30-year run as commissioner of the NBA in February, and Mourning, who helped the 2006 Miami Heat win the NBA title, were joined in the class of 2014 by Mitch Richmond, Nolan Richardson, Gary Williams, Bob "Slick" Leonard, Sarunas Marciulionis, Guy Rodgers, Nate "Sweetwater" Clifton, and the Immaculata University women's basketball team.
During Stern's tenure as commissioner, the league expanded from 23 to 30 teams and television revenue increased from $10 million per year to approximately $900 million per year. He implemented several rule changes to improve the game, instituted the NBA Draft Lottery and managed the relocation of six franchises while making the NBA one of the most popular sports leagues in the world.
"To all of my colleagues, I say thank you," Stern said. "I think the future is incredibly bright. The reason I'm here is because of thousands of people over the years who have done so much."
Mourning, a seven-time NBA All-Star, won back-to-back NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards (1998-99, 1999-00) and made an incredible comeback to the league after receiving a transplant to his ailing kidney prior to the 2000-01 season.
"There was so much purpose to my life that I knew that I could come back from any odds," Mourning said.
His career average of 2.8 blocks per game ranks sixth all-time over 16 seasons with Miami, Charlotte and New Jersey. The former Georgetown star was named to the NBA's All-Defensive First Team in 1999 and 2000 and also won an Olympic gold medal with Team USA at the 2000 Summer Olympics.
Richmond was a six-time NBA All-Star and the league's top rookie in 1989 with Golden State. He made up one of the most well-known trios in NBA history, "Run TMC" along with Tim Hardaway and Hall of Famer Chris Mullin.
"This is the ultimate honor," Richmond said. "I never ever dreamed of this growing up."
He also played for Sacramento, Washington and the Lakers in a 14-year career, winning an NBA title with Los Angeles in 2002, and averaged more than 21 points per game for 10 consecutive seasons to begin his career. The former Kansas State star won an Olympic bronze medal in 1988 and a gold medal in 1996.
Richardson became the first black head coach in the Southeastern Conference and guided the Arkansas Razorbacks to two straight Final Fours and three overall, winning the 1994 national championship over Duke before a loss to UCLA the following year. He won the SEC Coach of the Year in 1998 and also guided Tulsa to an NIT title in 1981, compiling a record of 509-207 over 22 years with Arkansas and Tulsa.
"God has blessed me in many ways and all honors go to him," Richardson said. "I always believed that you have to have a team to reach a dream. Everybody can dream and never reach it, but if you have a team, you can."
Williams led the 2002 Maryland Terrapins to a 32-4 overall record en route to the national championship. He posted a 668-380 record over 33 seasons with Maryland, American University, Boston College and Ohio State. His teams made 17 NCAA Tournament appearances.
"The players that I had on those two teams, the final four team and the national championship team, all those guys worked really hard to get us there," Williams said.
Marciulionis, a native of Lithuania, became the first Soviet player in the NBA. In his seven NBA seasons, Marciulionis averaged 12.8 points and 1.3 steals per game. He was a principal figure in developing basketball in Lithuania, resurrecting the national team in the early 1990s and leading the movement to participate in the 1992 Olympics.
"Thank you Don Nelson for recruiting me and bringing me from Lithuania to the NBA," Marcuilionis said. "I am proud to be Lithuanian and proud to be in the basketball Hall of Fame."
Immaculata, guided by coach Cathy Rush, won three straight AIAW national championships from 1972-74, with an overall record of 60-2 in those three seasons. The Mighty Macs then lost in the final in the next two seasons before finishing third in Rush's final year of 1977.
"People ask, did we know the impact we were making?" said Immaculata star Theresa Grentz. "No, we were clueless. We were just having fun."
Rodgers, who died in 2001, was a four-time NBA All-Star in the 1960s after leading Temple University to the Final Four in 1956 and '58. In his 12 NBA seasons, Rodgers averaged 11.7 points and 7.7 assists. He led the NBA in assists in 1963 and 1967.
Clifton, who died in 1990, played for the all-black New York Rens and the Harlem Globetrotters before essentially breaking the NBA's color barrier. He was the first African-American drafted to the NBA and the second to sign an NBA contract.