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Kenny Sailors nominated to be inducted into the American Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2024

The Wyoming Cowboys basketball court at the bottom of a large arena
(Will Walkey/Wyoming Public Media)
The Arena-Auditorium in Laramie is the nation's highest Division I basketball stadium.

Kenny Sailors, a Wyoming native, played basketball at the University of Wyoming (UW) from 1940 to 1946. He has been nominated to be inducted into the American Basketball Hall of Fame in 2024 alongside other greats, such as Larry Bird.

Many people don’t realize how impactful Sailors game play was to basketball. His invention and use of the jumpshot forever changed the game.

Sailors helped the Cowboys to win the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship in 1943. Along with winning many awards himself, such as the NCAA Most Outstanding Player. Sailors is also the only player in Wyoming history to have been awarded All-American three times.

Bill Schrage, a Wyoming historian, was a good friend of Sailors and has spent a lot of time learning his story.

“His ball handling, his playmaking, his passing, certainly made a big difference in leading the team [Wyoming Cowboys] of otherwise some very good players, as far as they went.(...) He was the key guy. Taking nothing away from some of the others, but you know how important guard play is,” said Schrage.

During the 1930s and 40s basketball was a rather slow paced game. Passing was favored over dribbling and players would shoot the ball standing on two feet. Sailors grew up playing basketball with his brother who was taller than him, and shooting over him while standing hardly worked in his favor.

In order to shoot over his brother Sailors had to jump, which was the beginning of his use of the famous jumpshot.

Schrager said “He pioneered, perfected and popularized the modern jump shot. We have to talk about today's jump shot, not a jump shot, but today's jump shot. That's the one that he gets credit for. And I think at this point in history, it's indisputable.”

Sailors played for multiple professional teams after his college career, such as the Cleveland Rebels and Boston Celtics up until 1951. After his career Sailors moved to Alaska with his wife and kids. According to Schrager, he was drawn to the outdoors which is where he spent most of his time.

Schhrager also mentioned that Sailors lived a humble life and was never one to brag about his invention of the jumpshot.

“He was a humble man by nature. He would correct history if you got it wrong, but he wasn't going to lead off with ‘Don't you know me, I'm the basketball player.’ He just wasn't that way,” he said.

Sailors passed away in 2016 at 95 years old. The American Basketball Hall of Fame’s goal is to honor and tell the full history of basketball, helping to keep Kenny Sailors' legacy alive.

Paityn is from Colorado and has always had a love for sports. Growing up, she loved to watch and play them and she hopes to pursue a career in sports journalism/broadcasting. Paityn is currently a freshman at the University of Wyoming studying journalism and working as a sports intern at Wyoming Public Radio. She enjoys watching all kinds of sports, especially hockey, spending time outdoors and hanging out with her friends and family!

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