White Men Can't Jump  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

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.

Plot

In an inner-city in Los Angeles, Billy Hoyle is a former LSU Tigers basketball player who makes his living by hustling streetballers who assume he cannot play well because he is white. Billy never degrades his race when joining on pickup games; he simply allows his opponents, most of whom are black, to falsely believe that they have a natural advantage over him due to his race and clothing style. Such a player is Sidney Deane, a talented but cocky 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 Puerto Rican girlfriend, Gloria Clemente, are on the run from outbid 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, Census's District neighborhood. He proposes a business partnership with Billy and they hustle other players by deliberately setting them up to pick Billy as Sidney's teammate. When they unexpectedly lose a game, it turns out that Sidney had double-crossed Billy by deliberately playing badly to avenge his earlier loss to him, making Billy lose $1,700 to a group of Sidney's friends.

Gloria is incensed at Billy for blowing his money again, but realizes he got hustled after Billy tells her 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. Despite their constant bickering, Sidney and Billy win the tournament and 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.

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, telling him "white men can't jump," but Billy fails and squanders his share. When he tells Gloria, she leaves him. Desperate to get her back, Billy goes to Sidney for help. 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 and Gloria discuss their new future, this time it is Sidney who is desperate for Billy's help; his apartment was burglarized and his winnings stolen, so he and Rhonda are desperate for money so they can move to a better neighborhood. Gloria is expecting Billy to get a steady job and settle down, but Sidney informs him that two hoops legends of the L.A. streetball scene, "The King" and "The Duck", are playing at the courts downtown. Sidney asks Billy to partner with him in playing against them and Billy enthusiastically agrees, offering to gamble his share of Gloria's take. Gloria warns that if Billy gambles with her money, they are through. Billy though feels he must honor the obligation he owes Sidney for getting Gloria on Jeopardy! in the first place. They play a final game against King and Duck. In a very tight game, Sidney and Billy prevail, the winning point coming when Sidney lobs an "alley-oop" pass to Billy, who dunks it.

Returning home happy for having doubled the share that Gloria gave him of her winnings, Billy discovers Gloria has kept her word and left him for good, and is crushed. The mobsters who are after Billy track him down, and he pays off his debts. Realizing that Gloria has left him for good and this time isn't coming back, Billy asks Sidney to set him up with a real job. 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.

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!".




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