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White Men Can't Jump

White Men Can't Jump is a 1992 film starring Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes as basketball hustlers, and co-staring Rosie Perez as Harrelson's girlfriend Gloria Clemente. The film was written and directed by Ron Shelton and released in theaters on March 27, 1992 by 20th Century Fox.

Plot synopsis

Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson) and Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes) are talented basketball hustlers who team up to make a killing, using Billy's white color against African-Americans who assume "White Men Can't Jump". Billy's ambition is to pay off a large gaming debt and settle down with his savvy girlfriend Gloria Clemente (Rosie Perez), while Sidney dreams of moving his family out of the Crenshaw District and becoming a basketball coach. Along the way they learn what it means to win and lose, both on the court and in life.


Woody Harrelson plays Billy Hoyle, a talented basketball player who makes a living hustling streetball players who assume he cannot play well because he is white. The 'hustle' is even more provocative because, although he appears 'goofy', Billy never plays-down his skill to increase the stakes; it is the African-American basketball players' own assumptions that are at the root of the hustle. In the opening scene Wesley Snipes, playing Sidney Deane, loses a game to Billy in front of his friends on a Venice Beach, California, basketball court.

Billy and his girlfriend Gloria Clemente (Rosie Perez) are on the run from mobsters called the Stucci Brothers, because of a large gaming debt. Sidney wants to buy a house for his family outside the rough Baldwin Hills, Crenshaw District neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, and start his own basketball coaching career.

Both players earn significant income through street basketball, and form a partnership to earn even more money. However Sidney double-crosses Billy by deliberately playing badly alongside him, making Billy lose $1700 to a group of Sidney's friends, who proceed to split the winnings among themselves. Gloria is incensed when she hears the story from Billy, and insists that they go to Sidney's place to get the money back. On the way, she tells Billy: "Sometimes when you win, you really lose, and sometimes when you lose, you really win, and sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie, and sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose. Winning or losing is all one organic globule, from which one extracts what one needs."

Billy is totally confused by this statement and is sidetracked by his concern about getting off the bus. Once they arrive at Sidney's place Gloria and Sidney's partner agree to split some of the money, and further agree that Sidney and Billy will team up for a major 2-on-2 tournament.

Though they initially disagree Sidney and Billy play together and win the grand prize of $5,000, largely due to Billy's ability to disrupt his opponents concentration; Billy's most notable claim is that he is in the zone, a location of frequent debate among streetballers at the time.

Sidney notices Billy's tendency not to slam dunk. Billy claims it is unnecessary grand-standing, but also believes that "...brothers (would) rather look good and lose than look bad and win." Sidney holds the view expressed in the film's title: White Men Can't Jump. Billy continues talking about how he can dunk but chooses not to. Sidney ignores him. Infuriated, Billy claims he is willing to bet his $2,500 on his ability to dunk, whereupon Sidney challenges him to dunk the ball at a local court, playing for his slice of the $5,000. In three attempts Billy fails, losing the $2,500. When Billy tells Gloria, she leaves him.

Gloria dreams of appearing on the quiz show Jeopardy!; she devotes nearly every waking moment to memorising obscure facts. Fortunately, one of Sidney's friends works as a security guard at the TV studio which produces the show. He agrees to get her on the show, if Billy can sink a half court hook shot, which he does. To begin with Gloria stumbles over sports questions (notably naming Babe Ruth as the NBA's leading rebounder), but makes a comeback with a pet topic: "Foods beginning with the letter 'q'". She wins $24,000 on her first episode. Gloria and Billy get back together.

Now it is Sidney who suffers misfortune as he is burgled and becomes more desperate for money. Billy is set to get a white-collar job and settle-down with Gloria. Despite Gloria's warning that if Billy gambles with her money "they are through", Billy decides to honor the obligation he owes Sidney; they play a final game against two hoops legends of the LA scene, The King and Duck Johnson. In a very tough game Sidney and Billy prevail, with Sidney throwing an 'over his head' alley-oop to Billy, who dunks for the winning basket.

Returning home, Billy discovers Gloria has kept her word and left him. He is initially confused: while he has won the game and the money, Gloria is gone; previously, she had stayed when he lost. Now he begins to understand the meaning of her earlier statement. He has been loyal to his friend and won the game and the respect of the L.A. pick-up scene, but has lost the girl he loves as a result.

The mobsters who are after Billy track him down, and he pays his debts. Now Billy asks Sidney to set him up with a real job. As closing credits are about to roll Billy starts arguing with Sidney over his dunk and challenges him to a game of one on one...


  • Bob Lanier, Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks legend and Hall of Famer, was hired as basketball coach for the movie. He was impressed with Harrelson and Snipes, suggesting that both reached division III college basketball skill level.
  • The musical R&B quintet Riff recorded a song and accompanying music video called "White Men Can't Jump" for the movie. The music video featured Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes and Rosie Perez. It can be seen on the DVD release with bonus features.
  • Freeman Williams, who played "Duck" Johnson, had a distinguished NBA career, playing for the Clippers, Jazz, and Bullets from 1978-86.
  • When the movie starts, a rap/hip-hop version of the 20th Century Fox fanfare plays over the Fox logo.
  • There is a video game based on the movie, for the Atari Jaguar console.
  • Future NBA Hall of Famer Gary Payton made an uncredited appearance as an unidentified street baller.
  • Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. made an uncredited cameo in the crowd of a basketball game.
  • The movie was referenced in Mel Brooks' parody Robin Hood: Men in Tights; when Robin Hood tries to jump on his horse and falls short, his Moorish friend Achoo sneers "Man, white men can't jump!"
  • Another soundtrack released for the film was White Men Can't Rap.
  • It is rumored around Venice Beach that writer/director Ron Shelton was inspired by the Bahr Brothers, of the Albion Park Community Centre, in creating the "The King" and "Duck" characters. The Bahr Brothers similarly inspired 'The Jimmy Dolan Special' in another basketball movie, The Air Up There.
  • The category "Foods that start with the letter 'q'" was an actual category on an October 1997 episode of Jeopardy!


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