White Men Can't Jump

White Men Can't Jump

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ron Shelton
Produced by
  • David V. Lester
  • Don Miller
  • Michelle Rappaport
Written by Ron Shelton
Music by Bennie Wallace
Cinematography Russell Boyd
Edited by
  • Kimberly Ray
  • Paul Seydor
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • March 27, 1992 (1992-03-27)
Running time
115 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $90.8 million[1]

White Men Can't Jump is a 1992 American sports comedy film written and directed by Ron Shelton, starring Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson as streetball hustlers. The film was released in the United States on March 27, 1992, by 20th Century Fox.


Billy Hoyle is a former college basketball player who makes his living by hustling streetballers that assume he cannot play well because he is white. Billy never degrades his race when joining on pickup games; he simply allows his African American opponents to falsely believe they have a natural advantage over him. Such a player is Sidney Dean, a talented but arrogant player who is beaten twice by Billy, once in a half-court team game and later in a one-on-one shootout for money.

Billy and his Hispanic girlfriend Gloria Clemente are on the run from out-of-state mobsters because of a gambling debt. A voracious reader, making note of obscure facts, Gloria's goal in life is to be a contestant on the television show Jeopardy! and make a fortune. Sidney wants to buy a house for his family outside the rough Baldwin Village, Crenshaw District neighborhood of Los Angeles. He talks Billy into a partnership and they hustle other players. When they unexpectedly lose a game, it turns out that Sidney has double-crossed Billy by deliberately playing badly alongside him, making Billy lose $1,700 to a group of Sidney's friends.

Gloria is incensed at Billy for blowing his money again and is also suspicious of how it happened. They go to Sidney's apartment and appeal to his wife Rhonda for fairness, and the women agree to share the money provided Sidney and Billy team up for a major two-on-two outdoor tournament. While they bicker incessantly, Sidney and Billy 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 state of mind in which nothing can distract him. Sidney is pleased with the outcome, yet he cannot help mocking Billy about his inability to slam dunk. "White men can't jump," he notes.

Billy insists that he can indeed dunk, and after Sidney clearly disagrees, Billy offers to bet his share of the $5,000 on his ability to dunk. Sidney gives him three chances. Billy fails, losing his share. When he tells Gloria, she leaves him. Sidney reveals that he has a friend who works as a security guard at the TV studio that produces Jeopardy! The friend, Robert, agrees to use his connections to get her on the show if Billy can sink a hook shot from beyond the half-court line, which he does. Gloria initially stumbles over sports questions (such as naming Babe Ruth as the all-time NBA rebound leader), but makes a comeback with a pet topic, "Foods That Begin With the Letter Q." She wins $14,100 on her first episode.

Billy sings Gloria a song he has composed and wins her back. As Billy's life comes together, this time it is Sidney who needs Billy's help; his home is burglarized and his winnings stolen, so he and Rhonda become desperate for money. Gloria expects Billy to get a steady job and settle down, but Sidney asks him to play basketball for money again and use his share of Gloria's take. Gloria warns that if Billy gambles with her money they are through. Billy feels he must honor the obligation he owes Sidney for getting Gloria on Jeopardy! in the first place. They play a final game against two hoops legends of the L.A. scene, "The King" and "Duck." In a very tight game, Sidney and Billy prevail, the winning points coming when Sidney lobs an "alley-oop" pass to Billy, who dunks it.

Returning home happy, Billy discovers Gloria has kept her word and left him for good. He is crushed. The mobsters who are after Billy track him down, and he pays off his debts. Billy asks Sidney to set him up with a real job. Billy says that Gloria has left him many times, but this time is final; Sidney remarks that they may be better off without each other. Billy launches into yet another basketball argument with Sidney, and they return to where they began—but, this time, as friends.



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. He also noted that between the two of them, Harrelson actually was the better player.

The original music soundtrack and song "If I Lose" were composed by saxophonist and composer Bennie Wallace, who also scored Ron Shelton's film Blaze.

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.

Marques Johnson has a supporting role as Raymond, who loses a game to Snipes and Harrelson. Johnson was a star player for UCLA's 1974–75 national championship team coached by John Wooden and later played for the NBA's Bucks, Clippers and Warriors.

Freeman Williams, who played "Duck" Johnson, also had a distinguished NBA career, playing for the Clippers, Jazz, and Bullets from 1978–86.

NBA player Gary Payton made an uncredited appearance as an unidentified street baller.[2]

The category "Foods that start with the letter 'Q'" was an actual category on an October 1997 episode of Jeopardy![3]

There is a video game based on the film for the Atari Jaguar console.

To introduce a new basketball shoe, Nike teamed up with the makers of White Men Can't Jump to assemble the package of shoes inspired by characters Billy Hoyle and Sidney Dean.[4]


Two soundtracks were released by Capitol Records, the first, White Men Can't Jump was released on March 24, 1992 and consisted mostly of R&B, the second, White Men Can't Rap was released on April 7, 1992 and consisted entirely of hip hop.


Box office

White Men Can't Jump grossed $14,711,124 in 1,923 theaters in its opening weekend, with a total gross of $76,253,806 in the U.S. and $90,753,806 worldwide[1][5] and was the 16th highest grossing movie of 1992.

Critical response

The film received positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 76% based on 51 reviews and an average rating of 6.4 out of 10. The site's consensus reads: "White Men Can't Jump provides a fresh take on the sports comedy genre, with a clever script and a charismatic trio of leads."[6]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three and a half stars, saying it was "not simply a basketball movie", praising Ron Shelton for "knowing his characters".[7] Janet Maslin from The New York Times praised Wesley Snipes for his "funny, knowing performance with a lot of physical verve".[8]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Cultural references

In the Mel Brooks movie Robin Hood: Men in Tights, when Robin Hood fails to jump onto his horse, the Moorish warrior Achoo mutters, "Aw, white men can't jump!".


  1. 1 2 "White Men Can't Jump". Box Office Mojo. IMDB. Retrieved 2006-07-28.
  2. White Men Can't Jump (1992) - Full cast and crew
  3. J! Archive - Show #3008, aired 1997-10-01 Quail, quiche, quince, quinoa, quahog, quesadilla, quenelle, quick bread.
  4. Halfhill, Matt (2009-07-15). "Nike Hyperize "White Men Can't Jump"". Nicekicks.com. Retrieved 2013-09-29.
  5. Dutka, Elaine (1992-04-07). "Weekend Box Office : 'White Men' Outjumps 'Basic Instinct'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-06-06.
  6. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/white_men_cant_jump/
  7. "White Men Can't Jump". Roger Ebert.com.
  8. Maslin, Janet. "White Men Can't Jump". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-10-23.
  9. "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.
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