You Either Smoke or You Get Smoked
An oral history of White Men Can’t Jump
COURTESY OF 20TH CENTURY FOX
White Men Can’t Jump begins with a 19-minute sequence that features a version of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” by the Venice Beach Boys, more rat-a-tat “yo momma” jokes than a season’s worth of BET’s ComicView and, of course, some pickup basketball. Director Ron Shelton (Bull Durham, Tin Cup) wanted to establish that his actors — a ragtag cast that included a burgeoning movie star, a fifth-lead sitcom actor, former NBA players, Division-I washouts, weekend warriors, and Kadeem Hardison in a goofy hat — really had game. So when the film’s stars, Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson, step to the top of the key for a best-of-five shooting contest, Shelton doesn’t cut away to the basket. No camera tricks, no editing, no ringers. There was just one problem: His actors couldn’t stop chucking up bricks.
“We were looking at our watches like, ‘When are these guys gonna make one?'” says actor Ernest Harden Jr., who looked on during the six-hour shoot. One day on set, Harden uttered what became the film’s mantra: That word action is a motherfucker. “You could be prepared,” Harden says. “And then you hear ‘action’ and everything goes wrong.”