Wyoming’s Kenny Sailors Dies at the Age of 95

photo courtesy of UW Athletics Department

by staff–30 Jan ’16

Kenny Sailors, a remarkable man who lived an incredibly full life, passed away at the age of 95 early Saturday morning.  He died peacefully in his sleep at 2:58 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, at Spring Wind Assisted Living Center in Laramie.  Services are pending.

Born Jan. 14, 1921, in Bushnell, Neb., Sailors and his family moved to Egbert, Wyo., in 1929. Sailors would become one of the icons of the game of basketball.  Credited with developing the modern-day jump shot, he led Wyoming to the 1943 NCAA Championship, was named the 1943 National Player of the Year and was the oldest living Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament prior to his death on Saturday.  In November of 2012, he was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City, Mo.

“The University of Wyoming has lost one of its great heroes and ambassadors with the death of Kenny Sailors,” UW President Dick McGinity says. “As the entire university community mourns his passing and celebrates his life, we offer our thoughts and prayers to his family.”

“We were saddened to hear of the passing of Kenny (Sailors) this morning,” University of Wyoming Athletics Director Tom Burman says.  “He was a great man, a great Wyoming Cowboy and a great representative of the State of Wyoming and the University of Wyoming.

“He touched so many lives.  For years after he moved back to Laramie, he would come to Cowboy and Cowgirl practices and games.  He was a great mentor for our student-athletes.  I know the people of Wyoming, like all of us in Wyoming Athletics, will miss him, but we are grateful that we had the opportunity to know him for so many years.”

Sailors and his former head coach, Everett Shelton, are the only two representatives from the state of Wyoming in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.  Shelton was inducted in the inaugural class of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.

After teaming with Shelton to lead Wyoming to the NCAA Championship in 1943, Sailors enlisted in the Marines and served from 1943-45 in the South Pacific during World War II.  Away from the game he loved for two years, Sailors returned to Wyoming for the 1945-46 season and once again earned All-America honors.  He was a two-time Consensus All-American in 1943 and ‘46 and a two-time AAU All-American those same seasons.

Sailors was one of the pioneers of professional basketball, joining the Basketball Association of America (BAA) in its inaugural season in the fall of 1946.  He played his first three professional seasons in the BAA.  The BAA became the National Basketball Association (NBA) beginning with the 1949-50 season and Sailors played his final two seasons in the NBA.

Upon his retirement from professional basketball after the 1950-51 season, Sailors returned to his native Wyoming to become a licensed hunting and fishing guide in Jackson Hole (1951-65).  Years later, he moved to Alaska and continued his love for the outdoors, guiding hunting and fishing expeditions from 1965 to 1999 when he retired.

Also during his time in Alaska, Sailors influenced the lives of countless young people, serving as a girls and boys basketball coach in Glennallen and Angoon, Alaska.  Sailors pioneered girls basketball in the public school system in the state of Alaska, including introducing the first state girls basketball championship tournament.  He won three consecutive state girls championships at Glennallen and led his team to 68 consecutive wins during that streak.  He of course also taught his jump shot to the young women and men of Alaska.

Sailors had suffered from declining health after suffering a heart attack in December of 2015.

He was preceded in death by his wife Marilynne, daughters Carrie Sailors and Linda Money, his parents Cora and Edward Sailors, brother Barton “Bud” Sailors, sister Gladys Sailors-Smith and triplet sisters who died as infants.

He is survived by his son Dan and wife Jean of Aniak, Alaska; eight grandchildren; 12 great grandchildren; and one great, great grandchild; along with numerous nephews and nieces, including Dale Sailors of Laramie, the son of Bud Sailors.