“History lost his story”
Nothing could sum up the basketball story of Kenny Sailors more. Who is that, you may ask? Don’t worry, I had to learn as I watched the new documentary “Jump Shot” that premiered at last week’s deadCenter film festival in Oklahoma City.
Even Thunder player Patrick Patterson — who hosted the Q&A at a screening on June 6th — didn’t know about Sailors or his legacy.
What legacy is that? He invented the modern basketball jump shot during his days at the University of Wyoming in the early 1940’s. You may now understand my embarrassment of being ignorant to this man’s story as a basketball writer for The FranchiseOK.
Executive producer Stephen Curry makes a handful of appearances, as well as other players and people associated with basketball — Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, Bobby Knight, Tim Legler just to name a few. Many of these greats were finding out about Sailors’ impact on the history of basketball during filming.
So again, don’t beat yourself up about it. Watch the film and enjoy the story.
“A man who has inspired so many people”
Those words spoken by producer Mary Beth Minnis — a graduate of Edmond Memorial — could not be more meaningful.
As you watch the documentary and learn that Sailors brought the modern jump shot to the game of basketball that was stuck in the quagmire of a snail’s pace in the 1930’s and 40’s, you understand how his inspiration is felt today. Flashes of a Curry three-pointer, a Durant mid-range pull up or a Russell Westbrook fast-break free throw jumper all pay homage to Sailors’ form.
What the viewer comes to understand and respect watching the film is the life of Sailors was so much more than, as he puts it, “that silly jump shot.”
“This is the guy who transformed a global sport,” Minnis told the Franchise. “I wanted to help tell the story of Kenny Sailors, the man. No one knows his name. I’m more excited about people talking about the man.”
To put it shortly, Sailors’ life accomplishments could be evenly distributed amongst five people and each person would have lived a proud life.
After helping Wyoming win the national championship in 1943, Sailors was drafted into the Marines in the Pacific theater of World War II. He earned the rank of captain before returning stateside in his late-20’s to finish his college career. Afterwards, he entered the NBA in its early years.
His wife Marilyn’s health encouraged Sailors to end his professional basketball career and move to Alaska. There, Sailors became the coach of Glennallen High School where he implemented a girls’ basketball program. His efforts led to the empowerment of young girls during his twenty year coaching career at Glennallen.
During our sit-down interview, Minnis shared with me that Kevin Durant’s favorite revelation of Sailors’ life during his on-camera interview was this stage of Sailors’ life.
“You do all that he has done helping the game of basketball,” Durant says in the film. “And you empower women at the same time? That’s all that you can want.”
“All of us who have ever played or coached the game, should have a picture of Kenny’s a** somewhere that we can kiss every time we go into the locker room”
Bobby Knight is true to form in his contributions to the film. The revered figure of basketball is right. Sailors’ is a monolith in basketball history, but still history lost his story. Which makes it more of a travesty that Sailors’ name cannot be found in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
The third act of the hour and fifteen minute film-long deals with Sailors’ friends and family trying to get his story and legacy across to help his inclusion into the Hall.
In Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball’s 736 pages, Sailors’ name does not come up one time. With that, you can understand the uphill battle presented to Sailors and his inner-circle’s quest of basketball immortality — an honor Sailors himself only values for his family, friends and alma mater.
“He didn’t care about being in the Hall as much as his friends,” Minnis said. “But he wanted to be in the Hall if it helped the University of Wyoming. That’s just the kind of man he is.”
The film is wonderfully done. It can appeal to basketball fans as well as fans of good stories. While Sailors’ contributions to basketball will likely draw the casual viewer in, the story of his life will move you and leave you with a desire to do something positive.
“I’ve heard from my friends that it (the film) makes me want to be a better (person),” Minnis said when asked about early audience observations. “I think it is so great to see somebody that lived such a great life and inspired so many people.”
Go watch the film. Support your local Oklahoma film makers.
Brady Trantham has covered the Oklahoma City Thunder for The Franchise since April 2018 and for Thunder Digest since 2016. He hosts a Thunder podcast with Madysson Morris “OKC-82 Podcast” which can be found on all podcast outlets, and is a featured co-host on the Franchise Thunder Insider’s Show on Saturdays from 10-12, in addition to weekly guest spots on “The Franchise Drive” on Tuesdays and “The Franchise Morning Show” on Wednesdays. Follow him on Twitter @BradyDoesSports