Well, since I was obsessed with the sport, I had read every book I could about the old-timers that played decades before Jordan, Bird, and Magic. I said, "Wow. He's the first guy that ever did a jump shot in a game." (before he was making jump shots in the early 40s, everyone shot with both feet on the ground). His photo in Life Magazine was the first ever that showed a basketball player in the air (take that, Dr. J !)
That substitute teacher was there the next day and gave me his phone number and address. In those days, just calling somebody that lived 30 minutes away was "long distance" and expensive. This was in Laramie, Wyoming. So, I wrote him a letter asking for his autograph, and we had an interesting correspondence. I asked why he only played 3 years in the NBA when he was a good player. He told me about how it didn't pay the way the players make money now. One endorsement he got was from a prune juice company, which also supplied him with as much as he wanted for free.
He was 5'10" and had to jump to shoot over his much taller, older brother. He explained that's how he developed the shot. It reminded me of the time I met Laker Jamaal Wilkes at the Miramar Bass. He had a weird outside shot, as he tried to shoot over his taller sister. Listening to him talk about that story, after I rode my bike 7 miles carrying a poster and 8 basketball cards (all of which he signed), was thrilling.
Kenny led the University of Wyoming to the NCAA championship and was named player of the year in 1943 and 46. He also made the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and like Shaquille O'Neal, there are plans for a statue to be erected in his hometown gym (they already have his jersey hanging from the rafters -- the only one ever retired there).
The last time he wrote me (approximately 31 years ago), he told me about the huge ranch he owned. He gave tours and took people on hiking and fishing trips. He said I was welcome anytime.
Hearing that he died today really shook me up. Sure, he was 95 and lived a great life, but still. I looked up some stuff about his life. His wife of 46 years died years ago. He had a daughter that died at age 5. He has a son, grandkids, great grandkids, and even a great, great grandchild.
I didn't realize his college basketball career was interrupted by flying a bomber in the war. So many great athletes in that era served our country (local legends Ted Williams and Jerry Coleman come to mind).
I like to think he's at that big basketball court in the sky...using that jump shot to score over Wilt "the stilt" Chamberlain.