Jump Shot @ SXSW – Documentary Spotlight Section

Another world premiere at SXSW! Jumpshot, as you might have guessed by the title, is about the origins of the jump shot in basketball. While it will be of paramount interest to fans of that sport, it is also a human interest film which will gain fans from outside the sport world. It truly is the life story of an incredible human, Kenny Sailors. Watch and be inspired by his spirit and outlook on life.

Kenny Sailors grew up in the small town of Hillsdale, Wyoming. Grew up during the Depression. Began to play basketball because his older brother did. Obviously, being older his brother was taller. This and the fact that he could not seem to get a shot past him, frustrated Kenny. It was during these one-on-ones where the idea and then execution for the one handed jump shot came about. In those days you never left your feet on offence or defence. Shots were two handed set shots. Kenny decided that if he jumped straight up and shot the ball from over his head it would be near impossible to defend from the ground no matter how tall his opponent was.

Basketball became a huge part of Kenny’s life. It got him into university where he played for the University of Wyoming Cowboys and quickly became a fan favourite. He was the captain of the team and was ahead of the curve with his jumpshot. Soon one win became many and other schools would not come to Wyoming to play due to the altitude and the quality of the team. That problem was solved when the coach of the team began taking them on the road to play games which was very unusual at the time.

The 1942-43 season was an incredible one for the team. With a record of 31-2 they were a powerhouse yet remained an underdog. Seen as a bunch of cowboys or farmers playing basketball. Once at the National Championship at the iconic Madison Square Garden in NYC they cemented their reputation. They won and Kenny was named MVP of the tournament. Next up was the National Invitational Tournament. The five best teams in the country were invited. Wyoming was overlooked. St. John’s won. It was decided that St. John’s would play Wyoming. The game went to overtime. Wyoming ultimately won. Now they were the undisputed kings of college basketball.

While at the University of Wyoming he began dating a cheerleader named Marilyn. They were married after Kenny’s freshman year and before he went off to war. She was pregnant before he left. He was in the Marines. When he returned two years later he was allowed to play again and while playing one more season at Wyoming he perfected his jump shot. Soon his form was perfect.

Next up was joining the fledgling NBA. At the age of 27 he went into the league. Kenny moved around quite a bit as several of teams he played for folded. Problems also arose because coaches in the NBA told him he could not use his jump shot. Plus they were not thrilled about his dribbling skills. It was only when he joined the Denver team where he was allowed to play his game.

A religious man and a devoted husband/father as time went on he began to believe that there was more to life than basketball. As such, and for the betterment of his wife’s health who had asthma, when he became eligible for the NBA pension he took it and moved his family to Alaska. There, for 35 years, he taught high school and coached basketball. Kenny was integral in starting his school’s girls’ basketball team. Retired at the age of 70. It was only when his wife Marilyn was struck with dementia that they left Alaska. They had been together for 60 years when she passed away.

Not many players of any sport can claim that they have changed their sport forever. Kenny Sailors can. Though he has been largely forgotten partially because he is so humble refusing to claim that he was the first to do a jump shot when numerous sports writers asked him to and partially because he walked away from it at a young age. Out of sight, out of mind. This film has largely come about because people began to realize that he was not in Basketball Hall of Fame and started to work on making it happen.

Unfortunately he did not get into the Hall in 2015 and he passed away in 2016 at the age of 95. A shame. Today’s players like Dirk Nowitzki, Stephen Curry and especially Kevin Durant along with the iconic (and controversial) college basketball coach, Bobby Knight were all interviewed by screenwriter/director Jacob Hamilton (first feature film) for the film. All learn plenty about Kenny Sailors and acknowledge that it is gross oversight that he is not in the Hall of Fame.

Hamilton does a great job not only educating us about Kenny’s impact on basketball and his career, but also gives us a window into what kind of man he was. This is done through some interviews with Kenny himself when he was in his 90s as well as with people who know him. You learn that while he is appreciative of all that basketball gave him his list of what is important are God, family/wife and his country. Not the type of man you instantly think of when you picture an NBA player.

A great film in that it makes you want to talk about it with people. Share what it is about. Has an impact. Hamilton has made a feel good film which is also captivating.

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