Sports Spectrum Magazine Summer 2021

'Jump Shot,' executive produced by Steph Curry, tells story of jump shot pioneer Kenny Sailors

The game of basketball in the 21st century bears little resemblance to the one Dr. James Naismith invented in 1891. Now, a new documentary titled “Jump Shot,” executive produced by Steph Curry and his Unanimous Media production company, will tell the long-forgotten story of one of the men who helped make basketball what it is today: Kenny Sailors.

Sailors is the man credited with pioneering and popularizing the first true jump shot in basketball history.

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“Jump Shot” features many notable basketball luminaries such as Curry, Kevin Durant, Bobby Knight, Dirk Nowitzki, Nancy Lieberman, Clark Kellogg and more.

The film has won numerous awards at film festivals across the country. It premieres online on Thursday and will be available until Saturday, April 18, at jumpshotmovie.com. Interested viewers can also pre-order “Jump Shot” for $7.99 for a 48-hour rental. Coronavirus relief efforts will receive 10 percent of the proceeds. (“Jump Shot” was originally set to premiere during Final Four weekend in select U.S. theaters, but the outbreak forced an online release.)

“We took the approach to establish who Kenny Sailors is as a human being and allow the audience to get to know him, understand him, almost become a friend of his,” Jacob Hamilton, the film’s director, told Sports Spectrum. “What’s so great about Kenny’s story is he is so relatable.”

Born and raised in Wyoming, Sailors attended the University of Wyoming in the 1940s with a game that was ahead of his time. Although his collegiate career was broken into two parts due to his service in the U.S. Marine Corps, he won an NCAA title with the Cowboys in 1943 and was named the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. In 2012, Sailors was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame.

Sailors took his jump shot to the Basketball Association of America, which merged with the National Basketball League to form the National Basketball Association in 1949. He played professionally from 1946 until 1951.

After his playing days, Sailors retreated with his wife, Marilynne, to the countryside of Alaska and then Wyoming, where he led an understated life until his death in 2016 at the age of 95. Although his jump shot revolutionized basketball, Sailors’ story became lost to history.

Part of the film focuses on those close to Sailors and their push to get Sailors into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Sailors didn’t often speak about his desire to be in the Hall of Fame, although historically, many major basketball innovators have been inducted.

“I think [Sailors] was content with what he had accomplished in his life,” Hamilton said.

Still, in 2011, when Hamilton discovered Sailors and the incredible life he had lived, Hamilton set out to show audiences all that Sailors had done for the game almost 60 years earlier.

“I’ve always been interested and drawn to character-driven stories,” Hamilton said. “We could have made this purely a historical look at the jump shot, but I don’t think it would be as moving for audiences to go see this film. I think it would have fallen flat.”

Hamilton’s efforts to re-introduce Kenny Sailors to the world received a publicity boost when perhaps the greatest jump shooter in basketball history got involved.

“We were very fortunate to have [Curry] come on as an executive producer,” Hamilton said. “He connected with the film.”

In a press release, Curry said: “Ever since I picked up a basketball, the jump shot was second nature to me. Learning the history of where the art of the jump shot came from, who introduced it to the game, and how it changed the game, was incredibly intriguing. Even more importantly, learning about the person that [Sailors] was, and what he stood for, was very inspirational. He was a selfless, special person that had the right perspective about life.”

Part of Sailors’ captivating story was his deep-rooted faith in Christ. When Curry, also an outspoken believer, heard about the documentary, to Hamilton’s surprise, he asked how he and Unanimous Media could be more involved.

As a follower of Christ himself, Hamilton never tried to make a film about Jesus, but instead tried to make a good documentary and let Christ reveal Himself through Sailors’ words and actions.

“I love to find stories that have a faith element to them and cause some spiritual conversation to take place,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton knows an informative and refreshing story is just what sports fans need now, with every major sports league suspended.

“People are hungry for sports,” he said. “They’re hungry for content that’s going to entertain. … We’re really excited to get to take Kenny’s story further than we ever imagined we could.”

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