Two-time all-American and basketball legend Kenny Sailors died in his sleep on January 30 in an assisted living center in Wyoming. He is remembered as an innovator and an icon in the sport of basketball—commonly believed to have invented the jump shot—and as a passionate hunter and angler. His death was announced by the University of Wyoming (UW), which he led to the NCAA title in 1943. He passed away at 95.
“The University of Wyoming has lost one of its great heroes and ambassadors with the death of Kenny Sailors,” UW President Dick McGinity said in a release. “As the entire university community mourns his passing and celebrates his life, we offer our thoughts and prayers to his family.”
According to the NCAA, Sailors died of natural causes after declining health since suffering a heart attack late last year. He lived an adventurous life split between his beloved state of Wyoming and the rugged wilderness of Alaska, where he spent 34 years as a hunting and fishing outfitter, coach, and teacher. Sailors remains to this day arguably the most recognized basketball player from the University of Wyoming, and the cause of that may be due to his height. Sailors was 5-foot-10-inches, not very tall compared to today’s elite basketball players. As legend would have it, Sailors perfected the modern jump shot while playing against his older brother, who had a significant height advantage at 6-foot-4-inches.
After a distinguished athletic career at UW and the NBA, and service in the US Marines during the Second World War, Sailors retired to take up ranching and guiding in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. After failed bids for political office in the 1960s, Sailors decided to take his outfitter business to Alaska and settled near the tiny town of Gakona. There, he occasionally tried his hand at teaching and coaching for nearby schools. Demand for his expertise grew so high that he eventually started conducting basketball clinics across the state.
Sailors and his wife Marilynne moved back to Wyoming in light of her failing health, and when she died in 2002, Sailors returned to his old college stomping ground of Laramie, Wyoming. He is survived by a son, eight grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild. Since his death, fans of the basketball legend have renewed their calls for his legacy to be recognized in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Sailors has already been recognized by the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
You can watch a short video on Sailors and the invention of the jump shot below: