Basketball On The Big Screen: White Men Can’t Jump

The provocatively-titled Hollywood blockbuster White Men Can’t Jump was released in 1992, and played on the numerous racial stereotypes surrounding the game of basketball. Many people blindly state that basketball is a “black man’s game”, despite the presence throughout NBA history of a number of Hall of Fame white players such as Larry Bird. An equally common stereotype is that the white players who do make a team are invariably the steady hands of the team rather than flair players – something Larry Bird also disproved.

In White Men Can’t Jump, Woody Harrelson plays Billy, a down on his luck former college ball player who has no job and makes his money playing ball against street players. In the most part these opponents are black, and assume that Billy will be an easy match because he is white. Billy does nothing to encourage this assumption, allowing the opponents to make their mistake without him needing to lie. Of course, Billy turns out to be a fantastic player and wins his fair share of cash.

The film is given its impetus by the acquaintance Billy makes with a man named Sidney, played by Wesley Snipes. Sidney is one of the many street ballers who loses to Billy, but unlike the others he decides to turn the situation to his advantage, with the two pairing up to win money from a string of opponents. As with all such films, the friendship goes sour, only to be rescued in the end by the bond that the two have struck up. The title comes from the assumption that white players are unable to dunk the ball, an assumption disproved in the end by Billy, who makes a dunk in the film’s crucial scene to win the pair $5000.

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