Mama Jokes And Reebok Pumps: ‘White Men Can’t Jump’ Is A ’90s Time Capsule

Long before the they hunted Blade‘s vampires and True Detective‘s “Yellow King,” respectively, actors Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson chased another type of game in the early ’90s classic White Men Can’t Jump — cold, hard cash. Or as Snipes’ character Sidney Deane puts it, “This is about money. This is about greed.” Besides, what else would a flashy film about the art of the basketball hustle be about?

More than 20 years after its theatrical release (and on the day the NBA season officially returns!), those of us who remember the film recognize that it’s also about the words, styles, and looks of the time. So, whether it’s the pumped-up kicks of the movie’s basketball street aficionados, the vibrant colors of Venice Beach, or the wisdom of the decade’s self-appointed spokesperson, Kadeem Hardison, check out the most ’90s moments of writer and director Ron Shelton’s comedy masterpiece.

And if there’s anything here you disagree with, then your mother’s an astronaut.

All the Colors

Almost every shot of White Men Can’t Jump is a collage of bright colors whose names often begin with the adjective “hot.” So, whether the colors pink and purple come to mind, or the famous “Jazz” swirl cup design, your mind is in the right place.

From Billy Hoyle’s (Harrelson) tie-dye hat to Deane’s “hot” colored muscle shirts, Shelton’s film is painted with a palette that either (a) no longer exists out in the wild today, or (b) can only be found in “vintage” shops manned by Brooklyn hipsters hoping to bring 20-year-old fashion choices back into style.

“Your mother’s an astronaut.”

According to Janet Maslin, then-film critic for the New York Times, White Men Can’t Jump “unfolds in an uncommonly sweet, harmonious climate, one in which rude remarks are the sine qua non of friendship.” Which means, the most recognizable (and most loved) characteristic of the movie is all the yo momma jokes. Of which there are many, many types.

Both Deane and Hoyle brandish rather complex, yet satisfying jabs at one another through the film. And yes, many of them dance around the fact that one is white and the other is black. However, being that both men have mothers, such jokes become the grounds for equality. Besides, when in doubt, know that calling one’s mother an astronaut will definitely set off some fireworks.

‘Dem Hairstyles

Not much can be said about Hoyle’s hair in the film — mainly because his tie-dye hat is almost always covering it. However, between all the bleaching and hairspray, everyone else in White Men Can’t Jump exhibits the rainbow of ’90s hairstyles in the flashiest way possible.

Deane himself displays casual and formal cuts, whether he’s “doing business” on or off the basketball court. But when his bicycle hat isn’t covering up his flat trim, there’s always Gloria’s (Rosie Perez) hairspray to fall back on. And it’s a helluva lot of product, so you won’t run out anytime soon.

“I’ll pump you up.”

Pumps were all the rage 20 years ago. Whether you had actual Reebok Pumps, or one of a dozen offshoots inspired by the originals to offer wearers an advantage on the basketball court, sneakers with the ability to enlarge themselves were everywhere.

So, when Deane offers to help a frustrated Hoyle out with his dunk game by pumping up his shoes, he’s not entirely full of it. Yes, he’s subtly giving his rival and friend some trash talk, but at least he’s using a then-genuine means of doing so.

Kadeem Hardison

Anyone who grew up with ’90s television knows who Kadeem Hardison is. Though he plays Deane’s sidekick Junior in White Men Can’t Jump, the actor initially gained fame as the lead in the successful late ’80s/early ’90s sitcom A Different World.

As Junior, Hardison shines in all of his scenes with Snipes and Harrelson, offering both leads enough support and resistance to contend with. Add to that the fact that he’s wearing Michael Jordan’s #23 Chicago Bulls jersey when we first see him, and you’re in for a ’90s nostalgia overload.

Alex Trebek’s Glasses

Canadian-American treasure Alex Trebek has hosted Jeopardy! since 1984, so it should come as no surprise that the television icon would feature in a film like White Men Can’t Jump. Yet Trebek wasn’t just an add-on to Shelton’s movie — he was a part of a major subplot.

Hoyle’s girlfriend Gloria is obsessed with the game show, spending most of her time brushing up on the latest trivia in order to qualify as a Jeopardy! contestant. When she finally makes the cut in the third act, Gloria attends a live taping and obliterates the competition. All the while, Trebek’s oblong, aviator-esque glasses, thin mustache, and curly gray hair exude the white male fashion of the time.

“We’re rollin’ now.”

Gloria (also known as Rosie Perez, also known as the choreographer of In Living Color‘s Fly Girls dance troupe) rollerblading along Venice Beach while listening to a SONY Walkman? What could possibly be more ’90s than that?

A lot of things, to be honest, but considering how many of those items are present in White Men Can’t Jump, it comes as no surprise that one of the film’s characters would boast the popular mode of personal transport and exercise. After all, it gives Hoyle the grounds to say one of the movie’s most cheesiest, best lines: “We’re rolling now.”