Pacers chose Rick Robey over Bird at the 1978 NBA Draft

Pacers chose Rick Robey over Bird at the 1978 NBA Draft

The cautious Nancy Leonard. Many of the Indiana Pacers board members in 1978, according to her, “had never held a basketball in their hands in their lives. She doesn’t want to name names. Although some of them played tennis and others were prominent local businesspeople, Nancy claims that none of the eight board members had the same basketball knowledge as her late husband Bobby “Slick” Leonard. When the Pacers sold their top pick to Portland in exchange for guard Johnny Davis and the third overall pick in the NBA draught, Slick was the team’s coach and general manager. The Pacers selected Kentucky’s Rick Robey with the third choice, not Larry Bird, as is now well known. With the sixth pick, Bird was selected by the Celtics.

Leading up to that June draft, Slick, Nancy, Pacers coaches and scouts had gone to Terre Haute five or six times to watch Bird in his junior season at Indiana State.

It was a disaster,” Nancy, 90, said from her Carmel home Tuesday. “I will never forget one second of that draft and this is something I haven’t really talked publicly about.” She hasn’t talked publicly about what some call one of the Pacers’ biggest mistakes in NBA draft history and how it came to be. Nancy was the team’s assistant general manager at the time

“Even for me to see it, I couldn’t believe his talent,” Nancy said. “He was just perfect.” When the team found out Bird was going to be in the draft, and even knowing they wouldn’t get him for a year as he was going back to play his senior season of college, Slick and Nancy knew they still had to take him.

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