DENVER (AP) - At 6 feet 5 inches, Bud Sailors was literally the big man on the Laramie High School campus in 1935. When
he practiced basketball at the family farm, he shot at a rim affixed to the windmill. Naturally, little brother Kenny
wanted a piece of the big star.
I was only about 5-8 (then), and he would just stuff that ball down my throat," Kenny Sailors recalled. He would just
laugh and laugh; he'd tell me: 'Kenny, you need to pick another sport. You're just too small for basketball.' And back
then there was a center jump after every basket, so you could see why he would say that."
In trying to find a way to avoid his Spalding facials, Sailors came upon a novel solution: actually leaving the ground
to gain enough height to release his shot.
That was the reason, to get the ball up over him," Sailors said.
And the jump shot was born.
It seems remarkably simple, doesn't it? How many times during the last two weeks has a player in the NCAA tournaments
left his or her feet to try and score a basket? How many NBA stars, how many gym rats at the local YMCA? Each and every
one owes it all to Sailors, a soft-spoken 89-year-old who lives in Laramie, in the shadow of the university where he
used his innovative shot to become a three-time all-American.
Everybody shoots it. Great ballplayers use my shot today," Sailors said.
When Sailors chatted on the phone one recent morning after breakfast - half a grapefruit, a banana, a few red grapes,a couple of poached eggs and a little bit of bacon, with all the grease" - he spoke with the same tone as someone who
relates that he brushed his teeth this morning.
And in some ways, it fits.
Basketball was only one part of Sailors' wondrous journey, a life that has taken him from a farm in rural Wyoming to
the military, where he won a Bronze Star with the Marines, to Alaska, where he worked as a fishing and hunting guide,and also spent some time as the coach of a girls high school team.
After all, it's not as if Sailors knew the commotion he would cause back in the 1930s when he began leaping in the air
to fire a one-handed jump shot because he couldn't figure out any other way to get the ball over the outstretched hands
of brother Bud, four years his senior.
It would be a stretch to say that Sailors' invention immediately caught fire. In those days, the two-handed set shot
ruled the roost. Basketball historians point to other players from that era who also were experimenting with a jump
shot, including 6-foot-4 Glenn Roberts of Virginia, whom the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame suggests might
have shot the first jumper in the early 1930s, though he did his work close to the basket. Author John Christgau
studied the question and wrote The Origins of the Jump Shot. He argues in favor of Sailors launching the first pure
By the late 1930s, when Sailors was following in Bud's steps at Laramie High, some adventurous hoopsters began to
employ what was called a step and shoot," in which they'd thrust one knee into the air and release the ball while
keeping their other foot firmly planted on the court.
By comparison, Sailors' shot was like the difference between a rotary-dial number and an iPhone. Sailors was asked a
few years ago if he were truly the man who took the first-ever jump shot.
I said: 'How do I know? How does anyone know?' There may have been some kid in Podunk, Iowa, who jumped into the air
and shot a ball," he answered. But somebody asked (legendary DePaul University coach) Ray Meyer what he thought, and
he said that I was the first person to take the kind of shot that's used in the game today. I always liked that."
Legendary St. John's University coach Joe Lapchick wrote in 1965 that Sailors started the one-handed jumper which is
probably the shot of the present and the future."
A 5-foot-10 guard, Sailors led the University of Wyoming Cowboys to the 1943 NCAA championship as a junior, when he was
named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. He took off two years to serve in the Marines and returned for a final
collegiate season in 1945-46. During that season, the Cowboys played Long Island University at Madison Square Garden in
New York City, and Life magazine snapped a shot of Sailors using his patented jump shot, the most famous photo ever
taken of his innovation. It's clear from the space between the bottom of his feet and the floor that sky-walkers such
as David Thompson had nothing on him.
Even so, change takes time, and despite all of his accomplishments, there were still those who insisted even in the
pros that he ditch his novelty act.
One of my coaches in the NBA would really get on me; he told me I'd have to get rid of that jump shot," Sailors
recalled. He said that it just wouldn't go in this league and that I needed a good two-handed set shot."
Hank Luisetti, Stanford University, class of 1938, had a nice one-handed shot, Sailors said, but he didn't leave the
floor, while Michael Jordan, who left North Carolina almost 45 years later, certainly had more than a little rise to
He shot my shot," Sailors said of Jordan, but then he'd (fade away), too, which is a pretty good move."
These days, Sailors spends his time relaxing and following the game he helped popularize. He often stops over at the
university to watch basketball practices or games.
I remember being locked out of my apartment and him just letting me come over and hang out," said Hilary Carlson, a
junior forward on the women's team, and Sailors' neighbor. He's a really big deal here in Wyoming, but to me, he's
just really cool."
He's also still got game. While Sailors jokes that his one-time 36-inch vertical leap is down to about 3 inches, he
adds that, when challenged, he isn't afraid to go onto to the court to prove a point.
People say to me, 'You're still playing basketball?' and I say, 'Of course, I'm only 90!'" he said. I still have fun
with it. I went up to Sheridan about three or four years ago with the Laramie Elks club senior basketball team playing
in the Wyoming Senior Olympics. I didn't intend to play; I was just going to help the coach. But I was watching this
kid - he was only 73 - and he was killing us, shooting these set-shot 3-pointers.
I said: 'Let me go in. I'll stop that guy.' The other coach said, 'Oh, Kenny, you don't want to mess with him.' I
said, 'I can stop him.' And I went in and I shut him down, by golly."