LARAMIE — Kenny Sailors had strict instructions for Thomas Lund:
“You make sure at my funeral you don’t let it be more about me than my savior,” Sailors once told Lund, pastor at Faith Community Church in Laramie.
And so, on Friday morning at the Arena-Auditorium, Lund followed Sailors’ instructions as he officiated a memorial service for the late University of Wyoming men’s basketball legend, who died Jan. 30 at 95.
An audience of roughly 500 fans, friends and relatives paid their respects to the humble man many credit for inventing the modern-day jump shot.
The Cowboys’ 1943 NCAA tournament championship banner and Sailors’ retired No. 4 jersey hung in the background behind his wooden casket, which rested at halfcourt.
“He referred everything to the will of God, saying, ‘I am only what God has made me. Whatever I am or have done is because of his preference for my life,” Dan Sailors, Kenny’s son, eulogized in a letter read by Bill Schrage.
After reading Dan’s letter, Schrage, a close friend of Sailors, shared his own experience with the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Famer.
“A few years ago, Kenny and I were watching March Madness on television, and I was curious who he thought would be in the finals,” Schrage said. “So I asked him, ‘Kenny, what would your Final Four be?’ To my surprise, he didn’t talk about basketball. He had a ready answer.
“He said, ‘Well, this would be my Final Four: God, husband, father, U.S. Marine.’ I said, ‘Kenny, what about basketball.’ He said, ‘It’s not in the Final Four for me.’”
Schrage closed his eulogy with a quote that Sailors often repeated in his final years.
Though an inaugural member of the Wyoming Athletics Hall of Fame and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, Sailors has not yet been elected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
But to him, those honors paled into comparison to his faith.
“He said, ‘I’m already in the only hall of fame that matters (the Kingdom of God). And the fortunate thing, is there’s only one person on the selection committee,’” Schrage said.
A five-minute video of then-91-year-old Sailors played on the arena’s two large video boards following the eulogy.
At one point he sits in a chair at a barber shop as the barber remarks on Sailors’ popularity.
“I’m not popular,” Sailors said. “That jump shot’s popular.”
Even in his later years, Sailors never took credit for inventing the jump shot.
But his style of jumper, using one hand to shoot and another to guide the ball, paved the way for the modern-day jump shot.
“Who’s to know who was the first player to jump in the air and shoot a basketball?” he said. “... (Former DePaul coach Ray Meyer) said it the best: ‘Sailors may not have been the first one to jump in the air and shoot the ball, but he developed the shot that’s being used today.’”
And yet, the majority of the video — like Lund’s sermon that followed — revolved around Sailors’ faith.
“One thing that has stood the test of time is God,” Sailors said. “He has satisfied me in a way that the Hall of Fame and success could never do.”
Schrage’s, nephew Dale Sailors, UW Athletic Director Tom Burman, Danny Nelson, Rick Stuart, Roger McMicheal, Todd Schmidt and John Faulkner served as pallbearers.
The memorial service began with a bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace” and included the songs “How Great Thou Art” and “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” both by vocalist Larry W. Hazlett, a professor emeritus at UW.
Sailors will be buried at Greenhill Cemetery in Laramie.
As for his basketball legacy, it’s physically present in the banner and retired jersey in the Arena-Auditorium’s rafters.
But Sailors hopes to simply be remembered as a strong, Christian man.
“As I’ve gotten older,” Sailors said in the video, “the Lord has showed me that there are things far more important than just sports or basketball.”