Director: Jacob Hamilton
You’ve probably never heard of Kenny Sailors. But you’ve seen him.
You’ve seen his jump shot: The two-foot plant; the vertical, straight-legged leap; one hand on the ball to send it sailing toward the hoop. If you’ve only seen five minutes of basketball in your life, you’ve seen this shot: You’ve seen it in everyone from Jerry West to Larry Bird to Michael Jordan to Steph Curry to practically any basketball player you can think of.
That’s Kenny Sailors’ shot—a shot created when Sailors was a scrawny teen and honed in the 1940s, back when he led the lowly Wyoming Cowboys to basketball greatness and a national title. While plenty of folks could say they “invented” the jump shot, only Sailors can lay claim to creating THE jump shot, the shot plucked from an age when the sport was slow and fettered by gravity and dropped whole into today’s NBA arenas.
“I should sue the NBA for using my shot without me getting anything out of it, shouldn’t I?” a delightfully active 91-year-old Kenny Sailors says in the film Jump Shot. “If I had a good lawyer, I’d do that. Sue ‘em all for … five thousand.”
He’s joking, of course. After watching Jump Shot, Jacob Hamilton’s excellent documentary, you know that Sailors is not the frivolous lawsuit type. In reality, the fact that he created the modern jump shot is one of the least remarkable things about the guy.
Most of us live just one life. Sailors, you get the sense, lived at least three. After becoming a star in college, Sailors became a marine and fought in World War II. Then he went back to college, bounced around the fledgling National Basketball Association for several years and then, abruptly, quit. His wife, who suffered from asthma, needed to get away from crowded, polluted cities, so Sailors moved them both to the least crowded and polluted area he could think of: rural Alaska, where the two lived and worked in almost complete obscurity for 35 years.
In those 35 years, almost everyone in the basketball world simply forgot about him.
And for Sailors, that was just fine.
“The Lord has shown me that there’s a lot of things more important than sports or basketball,” he says in the documentary.
It’s ironic that someone known for inventing the jump shot should wind up feeling so grounded. But that’s the impression you draw from this film. Even as modern NBA players marvel at Sailors’ old game footage and see his DNA in today’s greatest stars, Sailors’ own priorities were as humble and as honorable as the Wyoming farm he came from. While people belatedly celebrate his contributions to basketball, his own priorities don’t include the sport. Instead, he’s proud to have been a Marine. A father. A husband. A follower of Christ. Those priorities, he tells a friend, are his own Final Four.
Obviously, the NCAA’s own Final Four didn’t happen in 2020 because of the coronavirus. As I write this, it seems unlikely we’ll be seeing much basketball at all this year. Jump Shot, a film for which NBA superstar Steph Curry served as executive producer, is a great way for sports fans to scratch their basketball itch during these strange, unsettled times.
But it’s more than that. It’s an inspiring, at times bittersweet story of a remarkable man who lived a remarkable life. In an era when heroes seem few and far between, Jump Shot gives us one.
Jump Shot will be available to rent April 16-18 at jumpshotmovie.com. 10% of all proceeds will go to Convoy of Hope to assist in providing meals to families deeply affected by the current crisis.
Written by Paul Asay