Local filmmaker Ted Green
has produced another sports-centric documentary for WFYI public television: Bobby “Slick” Leonard: Heart of a Hoosier
debuts on Aug 7 at 9 p.m. The film traces the life of Leonard from his Depression-era childhood to his national-title-winning buckets for IU to his tenure as the coach of the champion ABA Pacers and his work as color man for the Pacers’ radio network. NUVO spoke with Green just after he’d seen a dress rehearsal for a preview of the flick on the jumbo-tron at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Tuesday night, July 29.
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NUVO: How’d the final run-through go?
Ted Green: It’s a little daunting to see your work on a screen that big. That screen is five times bigger than the screen in the actual studio where we worked on the thing.
NUVO: So why Slick, why now?
Green: I was wrapping up the film on Roger Brown, which came out in February of 2013. By that point I had spent a lot of time with Bob. He had appeared in [my] Roger Brown film, and he’d also appeared in Naptown to Super City
, and he’d also appeared in the first one I’d done about John Wooden. When you’re around him a lot, you see how people react to him. It just really struck me: He’s different than any other athletic figure I’ve ever been around. It’s amazing how truly how not just admired but beloved this guy is.
NUVO: How’s the film structured?
Green: We start at the beginning. We cover his youth in Terre Haute, born in 1932, a child of the Great Depression. Very, very poor — in all honesty, he didn’t have the very best relationship with his father. His father was working a lot, and away from home a lot. I think that’s the most interesting thing in the whole film: But for a lot of people in the neighborhood — who also didn’t have a lot of money — but for a lot of people stepping up and helping this kid, he really could’ve gone the wrong way. He takes all those lessons, and everywhere he’s been, he’s … this incredibly galvanizing force. I found that transformation to be phenomenal. I didn’t know about that when I started the film.
NUVO: When you’re doing a 90-minute retrospective of someone’s life and no just focusing on one event or period of time, I’ll bet you have to be ruthless in your editing.
Green: Oh, God, yeah. I interviewed 37 people. Most of those were one to two hour interviews. And these were just the people on camera — there’s countless others that weren’t on camera. I interviewed Bob five times. I can’t even think about how many hours that might be of footage. To get it down into a coherent show that’s paced right isn’t easy, but that’s the fun of it.
NUVO: Besides his rough childhood, what else surprised you about Slick?
Green: I didn’t grow up in Indiana. At first I just knew of him as the “Boom Baby!” guy. As I got to researching the Pacers more for Roger Brown
and Naptown to Super City
, I certainly gained an appreciation for what an amazing coach he was — and not just a coach, a leader of men. As for his playing time, I’d heard he’d won a national championship with IU, at one point I checked out his stats and he averaged 16 points a game. I thought, well, that’s not all that great — I’ll tell you what, when you really delve in, he was a phenomenal player. Two-time All-American, and he was also a very good player in the pros. He covered [Bob] Cousy and Oscar Robertson. He played with [Jerry] West and [Elgin] Baylor. He played in an NBA finals. In four games he twice had more than 20 points. This guy was a stud as a player — not only can we say that, we’ve unearthed a lot of cool, old footage. This stuff hasn’t been seen in decades, if at all. We try to let that footage do the talking.
This guy’s roots go deep into the history of the game. He used to sneak into Indiana State practices when he was a kid and Johnny Wooden was coaching there. He got his nickname “Slick” from no less than George Mikan. He played in a long series against the Globetrotters back when the Globetrotters were a very serious team. Even in his first, short-lived coaching stint in the NBA, he was, as a 30-year-old coach, mentoring some guys who went on to become serious figures in basketball history. Rod Thorn. Kevin Loughery, who was a coach for years. Gus Williams, a Hall-of-Famer; Walt Bellamy, a Hall-of-Famer; Terry Dischinger, Olympic gold medalist. They were all taught by Bob, to some degree. This all happened before he got to the Pacers, which I’m hoping may interest some viewers.