As a favor to Staverman, Leonard had helped organize the Pacers' rookie camp in 1967, the year the ABA was formed, so when he arrived nine games into the 1968-69 season, some of the players knew what to expect. "I was sorry to see him again," recalls Roger Brown. "I knew what kind of disciplinarian he was from the rookie camp, and that was all I needed to know."
Brown was 26 years old in his rookie season in the ABA, and for him the new league was like a rebirth. He had been formally banned from playing in the NBA because of his alleged involvement in a point-shaving scheme while at the University of Dayton, and though he was later absolved of wrongdoing, he never played in the NBA. Brown had silken moves and a soft shooting touch, and was once described by Leonard as being the Elgin Baylor of the ABA. But in his first year with the Pacers he never came close to playing as well as he was able to, and when Staverman was fired, he apologized to him for costing him his job.
Brown seemed to be testing Leonard at the very outset, playing only in spurts, coasting when he could. Leonard, meanwhile, saw in Brown a potential star, but he concluded that to develop the potential he first would have to get the player's attention. Ten years later Brown still can't believe what happened next. "He left me off a road trip," Brown says. "I was shocked when it happened, because I knew what my ability was and I couldn't believe he'd actually try to get along without me.
"The team's next road trip was to Minnesota, and I was so mad that I made up my mind every time I got my hands on the ball it was going up. Well, up it went, and most of the time it went in. We won the game, I went for about 30, and that was the start of Slick as the master psychologist."
Brown went on to become the Pacers' alltime leading scorer, laboring in the oblivion of a league without a network-TV contract. In 1970, when the Pacers won their first ABA title, defeating the Los Angeles Stars four games to two. Brown pumped in 53, 39 and 45 points in the final three games, and shot 63% from the floor.
One of the changes brought about by the merger was the elimination of the three-point basket, which had been an ABA fixture but was considered too gimmicky by the conservative old NBA. Leonard loved the added dimension the downtown shots brought to the game, particularly late in the last period when all seemed lost. "Slick hated to go for a tie if it was possible to win the game with a three-pointer," says Don Hein, the Pacers' longtime TV broadcaster.
"He was the greatest coach I ever saw in the last minute and a half of a close game," says Brown. "He wasn't afraid of anything, because to him it was only a game. The line he would always repeal to us in a crucial situation was 'No tears, no fears,' and yet Slick is a man who cannot stand to lose.
"One time we were down by two points with just a few seconds to play, and during a time-out Slick told everybody to clear out the side and let me take my man one-on-one. We all knew that there was no way this guy could stay with me, that I was sure to get-the two and put the game into overtime. But Slick told me that after I had taken my man in deep. I was supposed to turn and fire the ball out to Rick Mount, who would be standing behind the three-point line. It was strange, but when he gave you a play like that, you really believed it was going to work. We ran it just like he told us to and it worked like magic. I don't know how many games Slick won for us with decisions like that."
When the merger was finalized, the ABA lost more than the red, white and blue ball and the three-point basket. As the ABA soon learned, the NBA giveth and the NBA taketh away. What it mostly took was a $3.2 million entrance fee � from each of the four former ABA clubs, all TV money for three years, plus the right to participate in the college draft the first year. Not only did this drain the cash reserves of Arena Sports, Inc., a group of eight investors that owned the Pacers, but it also left Leonard with a bad case of the shorts in the personnel department. Brown, Mel Daniels. Freddie Lewis. Billy Keller and Mount had all retired or been traded; George McGinnis had defected to Philadelphia; and the draft was just something the Pacers felt every time one of their creditors breathed down their necks.
In May of 1977 the eight owners decided that they could no longer sustain such large losses, and they announced on a Wednesday that they were filing for bankruptcy on Friday, which was payday for the players. Had that happened, all of Indiana's players would have automatically become free agents, thereby stripping the Pacers of their assets.