Tucked inside a Lander foundry, hundreds of miles from the university where Kenny Sailors played, stands a statue built in his honor.
The statue, 18-feet tall and weighing 4,000 pounds, rests unceremoniously near a dusty wall and some equipment, away from the eyes of fans. Thanks to a recent controversy, many Wyomingites are aware of its existence. But there is no way for them to gaze up at it, to recognize the achievement of Sailors or its creator. Nor are there plans to find a home more befitting of a monument to one of our state’s most beloved athletes.
That is a travesty, and one that must be addressed by the University of Wyoming.
It was university officials, after all, who announced in 2014 that Green River artist Rudy Gunter would create the statue to honor Sailors, who is credited with inventing the jump shot and led the Cowboys to the 1943 NCAA Men’s Championship. A booster arranged for Gunter to sculpt it for the price of $100,000.
It seemed like an ideal arrangement. A Wyoming artist would create a monument to a Cowboy State legend. It would even be forged locally, at the Eagle Bronze in Lander. This is distressing, considering the rules grew out of a major controversy at the university only a few years earlier over a piece of art that commented on coal and climate change.
Those officials learned of their error after the announcement. And when the rules process was complete, a different artist had been selected to create the Sailors sculpture that now stands at the entrance to the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie.
The Gunter family says they were never informed by officials that another artist was chosen, a charge those officials deny. We may never know exactly what was said between the parties – the deal with the Gunters was made with a handshake, not a contract – but we can state unequivocally that Gunter and his statue deserve better.
University officials made the mistake that led us here. Now, they should step up and make things right by helping to find a permanent home for Gunter’s statue. There’s been talk about moving it to a rest area at Pine Bluffs, near Sailors’ childhood home of Hillsdale. Or perhaps there’s another location in Laramie, or in Wyoming’s capital city of Cheyenne.
The university should also work with boosters to pay for the monument to be transported and permanently erected in whatever location properly honors both Sailors and Gunter, who crafted the work while suffering from the debilitating effects of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
It would be easy for the university to walk away from this. After all, there is no contract, no legal obligation to perform these tasks. But in Wyoming, we take pride in doing the right thing without prompting. And the right thing in this case is to find a proper home for Rudy Gunter’s statue.