Exclusive: “Raymond” Reflects on Role That Changed His Life on 20th Anniversary of White Men Can’t Jump
Despite being a 5-time NBA All-Star and College Player of the Year, Marques Johnson has gained more notoriety amongst the younger generation of ballers for his iconic role of liquor store robbing streetballer Raymond in Ron Shelton’s classic White Men Can’t Jump. In honor of WCMJ’s 20th Anniversary Marques reminisces on the legendary role that forever changed his life and the inspiration for the character.
One of the greatest moments in my theatrical experience involved the portrayal of the character Raymond Dickens, from the movie White Men Can’t Jump. Dickens is an interesting choice for a last name, in a best of times , worst of times kind of way.
Talk about fun, being around the other cast members for two months of hoopin’ and trash talkin’ was as memorable as it gets. We had a four week mini-camp at Rancho Park in south central Los Angeles.
Former Loyola coach Dick Baker put us through a variety of skills and conditioning drills. Director Ron Shelton wanted to make sure our legs were ready for the prolonged repetitious grind of a long day’s filming.
My scene had me dunking at least 30 times, or so it seemed, as the camera shifted its angles to capture the panoramic essence of me throwing down one lob pass slam after another. As Wesley Snipes told me, “movie ball and real ball are two entirely different things”.
Wesley was a great athlete, but not a very good basketball player at the start. He had trouble executing a basic three man weave. Coach Baker declared that if your group messed up on any part of the maneuver, all three players had to do it again until done perfectly.
We would come up with spur of the moment excuses why we couldn’t run the drill with Wesley, a shoelace that needed tending to, a jock strap adjustment. Maybe more analgesic balm on balky knees needed to be applied at that exact moment, whatever it took not to have to repeat the drill with Wesley.
He finally caught on and loudly proclaimed, “I see what you MFers are doing, just watch me in a couple of weeks.”…[MORE]
And he was absolutely on point (no pun), because after a few days, he was running that drill and others like a seasoned vet.
Woody Harrelson, on the other hand, had this exuberant “gym rat” game.
He and I got into a little tete a tete the very first day of playing against each other. He called a bogus foul and I challenged him on it. He kept insisting that I was “impugning his integrity” or some other sort of way over the top protestation.
It was a grand time had by all. Meals especially catered to the palates of the always hungry athletes with a propensity for soul food. Friendly, beautiful women as principle characters and gorgeous extras at every turn.
The whole vibe on the set was one of congeniality and cooperation. Indeed, it was the best of times for us all.
At that time I was vaguely aware of Reggie Harding. He was a seven foot tall basketball player from Detroit who fell victim to drug abuse and its incumbent poor decisions.
The urban legend had him walking into a liquor store to rob it, donning a ski mask. The store clerk recognized the imposing stature asked, “Reggie is that you?” To which Reggie replied in one of the all time classic retorts, “Naw, this ain’t me.”
When I broke into the NBA in the late 70’s, this is one of the first stories you were told during one of the long bus rides, or while waiting at an airport for your commercial flight connection.
Writer/Director Ron Shelton used this as the basis for the character I would play, Raymond Dickens. The clear the playground scene as I go to my car to get my “other” gun is something I have been constantly reminded of for the past twenty years.
My many accomplishments as a basketball player just didn’t stack up in comparison to that one sceneto this current generation of hoop aficionados.
But who is this Reggie Harding dude really?
Some cite him as being the first player to get drafted straight out of high school into the NBA in 1962. After a brief stint in the Midwest Professional Basketball League, he made his first NBA appearance in 1963 with the Detroit Pistons. His first actual appearance in a game was delayed until mid season.
In a precursor of things to come, or maybe what was just par for the course by then, Reggie had been suspended because of gun charges. It has been alleged by Florence Ballard of the Supremes that she was raped by Reggie when she was 17 and he 18. She asked him for a ride home after a dance, he parked his car on a dimly lit street and had no intention of stopping in the name of love.
Friends and family close to her report that Miss Ballard’s entire demeanor and countenance was irretrievably altered after that incident.
As a player, Reggie consistently averaged double figures in both points and rebounds with the Pistons. But trouble continued to plague him as he was suspended for the entire season in 1965.
Other Harding highlights include foolishly agreeing to accept a contract with the Indiana Pacers of the then ABA that had him owing the team four thousand dollars at the end of the season. Seems Big Reg had a difficult time being on time, missing or being late for several flights and practices.
While on the road in a New Orleans hotel , Reggie’s roommate Jim Rayl was awakened one night to discover Reggie hovering over him with a pistol pointing at his head. “I hear you hate niggers”, Reggie said. As one could imagine, despite averaging 13 points and 13 rebounds, Reggie was done with basketball at the age of 25.
He was shot and killed on a Detroit street corner September 2, 1972. He was 30 years old. At his funeral, his casket was too long to fit into the ground. They buried Reggie Harding at an angle.
Reggie Harding’s life was one great big mess, a perpetual “worst of times”. His addiction fueled behavior preempted what could have been a promising career. Ultimately he has no one to blame but himself. It is a cold, brutal lesson to the delicate art of “path choosing”.
It is also a reminder to the contemporary practitioners and admirers of what has been termed “thug life”. When you have notorious gangsta rappers Ice Cube making kids movies, Ice T playing a cop on a highly rated TV series, and Snoop Dogg serving as the founder and commissioner of a highly successful youth football program, you sense there is hope.
As far as my depiction as Raymond Dickens is concerned, if my character’s glorification of the use of violence as an option to conflict resolution has resulted in any negative consequences, I extend a heartfelt apology.
Characters we expose our young people to on film can have a profound impact.
Two of my favorite movies from high school were The Mack and Superfly. It seems as if I’ve had relationship issues ever since. And please, don’t get me started with Superfly. I will say this, I thought it was absolutely de rigueur to sport those tiny silver spoons as neck wear.
It would be great if there could be a cinematic chronicling of Raymond Dickens’ evolution as a person. A requiem for the rudderless playground tough guy and his transformation into a responsible family man and positive contributor to society.
Alas, it is not to be, and that’s okay. Before the abject negativity metastasized in my life, I have been thankfully ushered into a new direction.
For it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity. It was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness.
” This Ain’t Me”…