This review originally appeared at indianapolismonthly.com
Sooner or later, if you’re a major player or coach in the history of the sports, you’ll be asked to write a book.
The final product will either be a compelling, straightforward biography or an inspirational, life-coaching book ghostwritten by someone with real storytelling skills away from the court or field. With the book Boom, Baby!: My Basketball Life in Indiana by Bobby “Slick” Leonard and Lew Freedman, we’re given a taste of both.
Longtime fans of both Indiana Pacers and Indiana Hoosiers basketball will know Leonard’s name. But if you’re like me, a transplant from the football-centric South, you’ll find out Leonard was a member of the “Hurryin’ Hoosiers” in the early 1950s who went on to coach the Pacers to three American Basketball Association (ABA) championships in the ’70s. He then settled in as the TV and radio color commentator for the Pacers in 1985.
It was in that role Leonard made famous his “Boom, Baby!” call for Pacer three-point shots, a call he still uses today at Pacer home games. And of course there is a chapter dedicated to where “Boom, Baby!” originated. Leonard even feels it is necessary to tell the reader which word to emphasize, as if that wasn’t already clear.
Leonard, 81, has a lot to share with the reader, from growing up in a “shotgun house” in Depression-Era Terre Haute to surviving an emergency plane landing as a member of the Minnesota team that would become the Los Angeles Lakers.
One of the more interesting aspects of “Boom, Baby” is Leonard’s observations of how the NCAA has changed, including how a school like Indiana University gets to the annual basketball tournament and how more restrictive the NCAA rulebook is now compared to the 1950s. With the NCAA of today constantly under fire for how it operates, Leonard’s experience as a player in the early days of organized college athletics makes his criticisms of the organization some of the more insightful.
Though Leonard had rhythm and flow on the court, those skills don’t necessarily translate to being an author. Each chapter is split into two sections, the first being an overview of the chapter written by Freedman, who also includes an interview with Leonard’s family and co-workers. These sections make for much more concise and easy-to-read versions of what Leonard then more or less parrots in his sections in grandfatherly stream-of-thought fashion.
It’s not clear if anyone edited Leonard’s sections, as “Slick” tends to repeat himself unnecessarily, sometimes in consecutive paragraphs. This and a start-and-stop sentence structure make “Boom, Baby!” a chore to read at times. Perhaps it would have been a better decision to go with the full-blown ghostwriter route.
Much of what Leonard has to share might be old hat for those who tend to seek out such things. However, as someone new to the Indiana sports scene after years in the football-crazed South, Boom, Baby! serves as a nice introduction to the basketball world from someone who has played in and seen it all at every level.
“Boom, Baby!” was published by Triumph Books in November 2013 and can be purchased at Triumph Books website for $25.95.