20 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About White Men Can’t Jump
Starring Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson as street basketball hustlers, White Men Can’t Jump was written and directed by the extremely talented Ron Shelton, who also wrote and directed Kevin Costner’s brilliant baseball film Bull Durham. Below are 20 things you probably didn’t know about the 1992 film, which influential critic Roger Ebert described as “not simply a basketball movie.”
20. Denzel Washington was the first choice for Wesley Snipes’ role
It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the talented but cocky Sidney Deane other than the actor who made the character famous: Wesley Snipes.
You may be surprised, then, to learn that Denzel Washington was initially first choice to take on the role.
Washington was one of the biggest rising stars in Hollywood at the time, off the back of his 1989 Best Supporting Actor Oscar win for Glory.
Washington decided to turn the film down however, instead opting to take the title role in Spike Lee’s 1992 biopic Malcolm X.
Not a bad move on Washington’s part, as his performance in Malcolm X would land him widespread acclaim, and his first of six Best Actor Oscar nominations to date.
So far Washington has won the Best Actor Academy Award once, for 2002’s Training Day.
19. Keanu Reeves, Charlie Sheen and David Duchovny were considered for Woody Harrelson’s part
Much as how Wesley Snipes wasn’t at the top of the wishlist for his role, Woody Harrelson also had some significant competition.
Before the Cheers actor landed the part, three other noteworthy actors were also considered to play streetball hustler Billy Hoyle.
One of these was Keanu Reeves, on the ascent in Hollywood at the time thanks to the Bill and Ted movies and Point Break.
According to Harrelson, the part would have gone to Reeves if only the future John Wick had been any good at basketball.
After Reeves’ inability on the court left him out of the running, Charlie Sheen was offered the role, but passed as he wasn’t interested in making a movie about basketball.
Another actor who was less well known at the time also auditioned: David Duchovny, who would find fame in 1993 with the launch of TV’s The X-Files.
18. Writer-director Ron Shelton based it on real-life experiences playing street basketball
White Men Can’t Jump was the third film from writer-director Ron Shelton, and his second to be based around sports.
Shelton had previously been a minor league baseball player, and drew on those experiences in his debut film, 1988’s Bull Durham.
White Men Can’t Jump was also inspired by Shelton’s real-life experiences playing basketball in street courts around LA.
Shelton recalled in 2012, “There is a democracy on the playground. If you got game, no one cares what you look like.”
“Not until I announced I was making this movie did the guys I was playing with for years know that I was the guy who made Bull Durham. I was just a guy who had a lot of game for a white guy.”
Shelton wound up casting some of his basketball buddies in the film including Cylk Cozart, who concurs he “had no idea who (Shelton) was” until work on White Men Can’t Jump began.
17. Rosie Perez’ character was originally intended to be white, and Holly Hunter was considered
As well as being a major career turning point for its leading men, White Men Can’t Jump was also a significant step for Rosie Perez.
After debuting with a key supporting role in 1989’s Do the Right Thing, Perez went on to 1991’s Night on Earth before landing the role of Billy’s girlfriend Gloria.
Like her male co-stars, Perez beat out some stiff competition for the part, most notably Holly Hunter – who, two years later, would win the Best Actress Oscar for The Piano.
Perez recalls that the studio were resistant to casting a Puerto Rican actress as their white lead’s love interest, as “they were worried about the interracial aspect.”
However, Snipes and Harrelson pushed for her to be given the role, and the actress says she was “grateful that (her male co-stars) put themselves out there like that.”
Perez explains, “that’s the only way things change – when everyone joins the fight and you’re not the only one rushing up the hill.”
16. Tyra Ferrell beat out Halle Berry and Angela Basset for the role of Rhonda
Competition was also pretty fierce for the role of Rhonda, love interest of Snipes’ Sidney.
Tyra Ferrell, who’d not long since appeared in the acclaimed Boyz n the Hood, wound up landing the role – but she had some serious competition.
One such contender was Halle Berry, then a comparatively lesser-known actress and former beauty pageant contender, who’d made her film debut the previous year alongside Wesley Snipes in Jungle Fever.
Angela Bassett – who had co-starred with Ferrell in Boyz n the Hood – also auditioned for the role.
By the end of the 90s both Berry and Bassett would be huge stars, and not long thereafter Berry would become the first (and to date only) black woman to win the Best Actress Oscar for 2001’s Monster’s Ball.
Ferrell’s career didn’t take off in the same way, but she has worked extensively in TV, including runs on E.R. and Empire.
15. Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson were both accomplished basketball players
During White Men Can’t Jump’s production, former professional basketball player Bob Lanier was hired as the film’s basketball coach.
It was Lanier’s responsibility to coach the actors and ensure that the basketball scenes were as realistic as possible.
Lanier was extremely impressed with the basketball ability of both Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson.
As for which of the two was really the best, Lanier revealed that in his opinion, Harrelson was slightly better at the game.
Unfortunately, Harrelson later described a one on one game against Lanier as the most embarrassing 15 minutes of his life.
Still, Lanier acknowledged that Snipes was more athletic overall than Harrelson; no surprise, given the number of action-oriented roles the actor has taken since.
14. Its cast and crew had to be careful where they filmed scenes
Aiming for authenticity, the makers of White Men Can’t Jump were keen to film in real basketball courts in urban LA.
Many of these were situated in impoverished areas with high levels of street crime and racial tensions.
Because of this, the film’s cast and crew had to enlist the help of locals who could negotiate for them to ensure their safety.
To this end the White Men Can’t Jump crew hired the local branch of the Fruit of Islam, the security division of the political and religious movement the Nation of Islam.
The New York branch of this same organisation was hired to perform much the same task on the set of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.
“(The Fruit of Islam) would go into neighborhoods ahead of us and navigate the gang turf wars so we would know exactly where we could shoot safely,” the film’s writer and director Ron Shelton has been quoted as saying.
13. The basketball hoops had to be lowered to enable Woody Harrelson to dunk
As we’ve established, Woody Harrelson’s prowess at basketball helped him land the role of Billy Hoyle in White Men Can’t Jump.
However, there was one slight problem – which, in lieu of the movie’s title, seems more than a little ironic!
The 5ft 10 actor couldn’t quite jump the ten-foot height that would enable to him to dunk the ball into the hoop.
Because of this, the hoops had to be lowered just a little bit, to a height of nine-and-a-half feet.
Reportedly this was done between takes – and whilst Wesley Snipes had left the set and gone back to his trailer.
Snipes says he wasn’t fooled, though: “(Harrelson) went up there and dunked it. Everyone was going crazy and I went, ‘Wait a minute, something is wrong here.’ So I dunked it, and immediately was like, ‘C’mon, you guys lowered the rim.'”
12. Several professional basketball players appear in the film
As you might expect given the subject matter, a number of the basketball players we see in White Men Can’t Jump were real-life pros.
One of these was Marques Johnson, a five-time NBA All-Star, who plays the role of Raymond.
Another was Duck Johnson actor Freeman Williams, who had previously played professionally for eight years.
Nigel Miguel, who appears as Dwight “the Flight” McGhee, was a former New Jersey Nets player.
Interestingly, the actor and sportsman (who holds dual citizenship of the US and Belize) is now the film commissioner for Belize.
Other former pros in the movie are Zeke actor Kevin Benton, and Willie Lewis actor Duane Martin.
11. Nike made shoes inspired by the movie
As evidence of the impact White Men Can’t Jump made, Nike paid tribute to the movie in 2009.
In the 1992 movie, Harrelson’s Billy Hoyle wears a pair of Nike Air Command Force basketball sneakers.
The brand obviously appreciated this association, as 17 years later they issued a special edition Billy Hoyle shoe.
As well as being close reproductions of the shoes worn by Harrelson in the movie, the Nike Hyperize Billy Hoyles also came inscribed with one of Harrelson’s lines.
The words “I’M IN THE F*#@!NG ZONE!” were inscribed on the tongue of these special edition Nikes.
Five years later in 2014, Nike re-issued the original Nike Air Command Force sneakers.
10. One scene was inspired by the director’s real-life experience of violence on the basketball court
While it’s an optimistic film, White Men Can’t Jump does acknowledge the ugly realities of LA street life at the time.
One notably dark scene sees Raymond (Marques Johnson) threaten violence when he realises Billy and Sidney are hustling him.
This scene drew on a real-life experience of writer-director Ron Shelton, when the court he attended was closed due to a shooting.
Shelton recalls finding the court chained shut and “I asked someone, “What happened?” This guy goes, “Jesse went to his glove compartment.”
“I didn’t know that “Going to your glove compartment” meant going to get a gun to settle a dispute.”
“There was an argument about whether something was a block or a charge and he went to his glove compartment and shot a guy dead.”
9. Two soundtrack albums were released
By the 90s, movie soundtrack albums were big business, so it made sense that White Men Can’t Jump sought to capitalise on that.
Not one but two soundtrack albums were commercially released in association with the film.
Firstly, the official White Men Can’t Jump soundtrack album was made up primarily of pop and R&B tracks featured in the movie.
This included the White Men Can’t Jump theme song, which was performed by Riff.
As well as featuring footage from the film itself, there was also new footage featuring Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson and Rosie Perez shot specifically for the music video. The single wound up reaching #90 on the Billboard Hot 100.
A second album was issued under the title White Men Can’t Rap – and, as you might expect from the title, this consisted entirely of hip hop.
The shorter, six track CD featured songs from Cypress Hill, Boo-Ya T.R.I.B.E., Main Source and others.
8. A sequel was discussed early on, but never got beyond talks
White Men Can’t Jump proved to be a big success at the box office, earning $75 million in the US alone.
Shelton recalls the film opened in 2,000 screens, and out-performed Basic Instinct in US theatres.
Because of this, the writer-director says there was “immediate talk of a sequel” to White Men Can’t Jump.
Shelton says he was “interested” in a follow-up, which might have seen Billy and Sidney play ball in Europe.
However, this never got beyond the preliminary discussion stage, as Joe Roth – boss at 20th Century Fox when the movie was made – left the studio for Disney.
As is common in Hollywood politics, Roth’s successor at Fox had no interest in backing projects championed by his predecessor, and so White Men Can’t Jump 2 fell by the wayside.
7. The director later sued the studio for lost profits
Perhaps the last nail in the coffin for a possible White Men Can’t Jump sequel came when Shelton sued 20th Century Fox over the film.
The writer-director took legal action against the studio in 1997, over profits which he was owed but had not been paid.
In what became something of a landmark, Shelton won his case and Fox were ordered to pay him $9.8 million.
However, this also permanently soured the filmmaker’s relationship with the studio, for whom he has never directed another movie.
Shelton recalls, “I didn’t want to sue… I was forced to sue by (Fox)… the jury decided I was right. Hopefully I never get involved in one of those (court cases) again.”
Shelton’s later films include golf movie Tin Cup, cop drama Dark Blue and action comedy Hollywood Homicide.
6. The cast ad-libbed lots of “Yo Momma” jokes that were cut for rating concerns
The cast of White Men Can’t Jump confirm that a large amount of the dialogue in the film was ad-libbed.
Shelton made particular demands on his cast to bring their own ideas when it came to “yo momma” jokes.
The writer-director recalls, “I had a page of momma jokes in the script and told them to come back with momma jokes. They came out with computer printouts.”
Supporting actor Kadeem Hardison recalls, “I called back to New York and told everyone to send me all of their “Yo momma” jokes. I made a rhyme book for momma jokes.”
However, Hardison recalls “Ron (Shelton) didn’t let me keep my favourite one,” which related to an STD.
According to Shelton, “we shot ’em, but most of them would have given me an NC-17 rating.”
5. The cast were often gambling for real in between scenes
As competitive as the two male leads are in the movie itself, by all accounts things were as competitive off-camera too.
Onset reports revealed that there was a great deal of gambling going on among the cast when they weren’t filming.
Cylk Cozart (who played Robert) estimates that he won about $5,000 off Woody Harrelson, telling him that he wanted to take “all of his Cheers money.”
Harrelson has also claimed that he too won money from his co-star Wesley Snipes.
All of this closely mirrors the key themes of the film as Billy and Sidney make money from hustling other basketball players.
However, there’s no way they could have hustled the $90 million the film made at the global box office, off the back of a $31 million budget.
4. It’s the second of four films that Snipes and Harrelson have made together to date
White Men Can’t Jump established Snipes and Harrelson as an iconic Hollywood double-act – but it wasn’t their first collaboration.
The two actors had previously worked together in supporting roles in another sports movie, 1986 Goldie Hawn comedy Wildcats.
However, White Men Can’t Jump really established the duo as movie stars, and cemented them as close friends and collaborators.
Snipes and Harrelson headlined one more movie together, 1995 action thriller Money Train, co-starring Jennifer Lopez.
Unfortunately, Money Train proved to be an expensive box office flop, which may account for the lack of further films headlined by the duo.
The last movie the actors appeared in together was Play It to the Bone, also a reunion with White Men Can’t Jump writer-director Ron Shelton, in which Snipes briefly cameos.
3. It was one of Stanley Kubrick’s favourite films
White Men Can’t Jump proved popular with audiences and critics – but one particular admirer of the film might come as a surprise.
Reportedly, the film was a firm favourite of Stanley Kubrick, legendary director of such classics as 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining.
This revelation became a matter of public record following the death of the reclusive auteur in 1999.
The US film distribution company Criterion published a list of Kubrick’s favourite films after interviewing his family members, friends and colleagues.
The subsequent list named White Men Can’t Jump among the films which Kubrick most deeply admired.
Other Kubrick favourites include such more obvious classics as Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Dog Day Afternoon and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
2. It was adapted into one of the worst video games of all time
Do you remember the White Men Can’t Jump video game that was released for Atari’s Jaguar console?
If the answer to that question is no, we can hardly blame you. After all, most of us barely even remember the Atari Jaguar.
The 1995 game, which was only very loosely based on the film it was based on, is often cited as being one of the worst of all time.
Despite featuring a multiplayer option that was praised by many, the game, according to the now-defunct US gaming magazine Gamepro, had “poor controls, bad graphics, and annoying sound.”
This was yet another nail in the coffin of the once dominant video games company Atari, which struggled from the mid-80s onwards.
Curiously, another game based on a movie – E.T. the Video Game – has often been blamed for the downfall of Atari’s flagship console, the 2600.
1. A remake has been in development since 2017
In 2017 it was revealed that US film producer Kenya Barris had begun development on a White Men Can’t Jump remake.
Barris came to prominence in recent years as the creator of the acclaimed TV comedy series Black-ish.
Initial reports said Barris would write the film, and produce alongside professional Basketball player Blake Griffin and American Footballer Ryan Kalil.
However, it’s been well over three years since this announcement was made, and there’s been no more news on the project since.
Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson have both said in the past they’d still be up for making a sequel, so who knows what the future holds?