Woody Harrelson Conned Wesley Snipes On The Set Of White Men Can't Jump

"White Men Can't Jump" is a rare example of moviemaking where everything seemed to come together perfectly. Writer/director Ron Shelton was able to combine his love for LA and streetball with this 1992 effort, and found two stars who couldn't have had better chemistry, both on camera and off. Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson, who played Sidney Deane and Billy Hoyle respectively, were effortlessly captivating as struggling Venice Beach basketball players who hustle their way through LA's streetball scene. Had Snipes not sabotaged his "White Men Can't Jump" audition with Keanu Reeves, things might have been different. But as it stands, the movie is one of the best basketball films ever made, largely due to its two leads and their easy rapport.

After Sidney encounters Billy during a pickup game on the famed Venice Beach courts, he invites "the chump" to play, only to discover that Billy is good — maybe even better than him. Once Billy hustles him in a shoot-out, they team up to run a similar scam on courts around LA by using "the chump" to trick players into betting, only to consistently beat everyone. Managing a mix of humor and drama that's rarely achieved this convincingly, "White Men Can't Jump" was not only relentlessly entertaining but made you feel like you were watching real people deal with the realities of life hustling in LA.

In Hulu's recent "White Men Can't Jump" reunion Shelton said he had the title even before he'd written a single line for the movie, saying, "it might be slightly provocative, but it was sure a title you remembered." It also turned out to be literally true, at least in Harrelson's case, when it came time to shoot the crucial scene where Billy bets all his newly earned tournament money on one final dunk.

Hustling Wesley Snipes

Betting and hustling seemingly extended into life behind the scenes of "White Men Can't Jump." In ESPN's 30th anniversary retrospective, actors and crew reportedly confirmed to the outlet that gambling was rife on set, on both pickup games and actual shots for the film. So naturally, for the scene in which Billy bets his tournament money on one dunk, Harrelson and Snipes had a side bet running.

Woody Harrelson was adamant he could dunk, and persisted in trying even as he continued to fall short. as Former NBA player Marques Johnson, who played Raymond in the film, recalled:

"Ron Shelton's like, 'We gotta lower this thing, Woody. We don't have all night.' So Woody's, like, 'No, no, whatever you do, don't lower the basket. I know I can do it. I've done it before. I've been workin' on this for the past couple of months.'"

At this point, everyone seems to recall things differently. According to Harrelson, who recounted the story to Yahoo, Wesley Snipes went to his trailer, during which time a woman from the sound team told him to stretch: "I started stretching and the next thing you know, I could dunk the ball." But Johnson told ESPN it was Harrelson who left to his trailer, at which point Ron Shelton ordered the crew to "Take that thing down to nine and a half feet," after which Harrelson could dunk. What isn't in dispute, however, is that Snipes lost money.

In Harrelson's recollection to Yahoo, he continued to pretend he couldn't dunk after his co-star returned to the set, just to get him to bet more money: "We upped the bet and upped the bet and then I slammed it [...] I'll never forget the look on Wes's face. That was a joyous moment."

Real friendship

Ron Shelton, Wesley Snipes, and Woody Harrelson talked about the dunk bet in Hulu's "White Men Can't Jump" reunion, where they shared memories of shooting the film and generally displayed a camaraderie indicative of the bonding experience they had working on the project. Everything seemed to come together flawlessly on the production, with Shelton saying "It's probably the best time I ever had making a movie" — and that's with 30 years of moviemaking experience since directing "White Men Can't Jump."

But perhaps most important was the off-screen bond between the film's two stars, who had met on the set of 1986's "Wildcats," and continued to build their relationship in the six years leading up to "White Men Can't Jump." And it was that film that seemingly cemented their bond. As Snipes says in the Hulu featurette, "You get the chance to see a film where I develop one of the best friendships with a man in this business and that's with that man right there [gestures at Harrelson]." That genuine friendship is on full display in the film, where both actors are so convincing with their playful banter and easy rapport, it would be genuinely unbelievable if they pulled it off without actually being friends off-screen. And while Harrelson obviously managed to con his friend out of some money on-set, it was clearly all in good fun.

Whether Jack Harlow and Sinqua Walls managed to forge a similar bond on the remake of "White Men Can't Jump" remains to be seen. But they're going to need something pretty special to outdo the original. If I were a betting man, I'd put my money on Snipes and Harrelson's version.