Over 15 years ago a wonderful sports movie debuted. I’m referring to the 1994 critically acclaimed documentary, titled Hoop Dreams. The film has been called the best sports documentary ever, and consistently is rated in top 20 “best ever” lists. If you have never seen the movie I strongly encourage you to obtain a copy. You wont be disappointed.
In short the producers followed the high school careers of two high school athletes, William Gates and Arthur Agee. I watched the over 2 hour long film when it came out and just recently re-watched the film. It touched me as much as it did the first time I viewed the film.
At the movies onset both William Gates and Arthur Agee were very promising high school basketball players. Growing up in the Cabrini Green projects of Chicago they were discovered by a talent scout who saw them play as 8th graders. Both boys were given scholarships and enrolled at St. Josephs High School. St. Josephs was a private school featuring a long tradition of producing excellent basketball players. At the age of 14 the two boys had dreams of stardom, championships and scholarships to Division I colleges, and of course the riches of the NBA. In the four years that follow, the 2 boys struggle with grades, injuries, unfair expectations, and finally not being good enough.
The power of the film is not only in the dreams of the young men portrayed. You sober up real quick once you realize people like Agee and Gates, are left on the side of the road after the cheering stops. The film makes strong indictments about educational and economic inequities, as well as values and moral choices facing young people as they grow up. Several years ago Gates now a minister was quoted, ” so may people told me don’t forget me when you make the NBA. I should of told them…don’t forget me then if I don’t.”
Both Gates and Agee do partially manage to fulfill part of their dream and achieve college scholarships; Agee to Arkansas State and Gates to Marquette. Sadly their dreams of NBA riches are never realized. Having watched the movie again I wanted to know how the young men’s lives had turned out.
Agee has had a hard time finding his way. According to a 2006 Sports Illustrated Article he has had several failed business ventures. Including a failed movie career, a clothing line, and bouncing around several minor basketball leagues who signed him mostly for public relations. In a more recent article Agee has found a mark in life through his Control Your Destiny Foundation, which encourages young people to follow their dreams.
Arthur Agee never made it to the NBA and most of the young athletes he talks to never will either. His message is, stay in school and get an education. Agee tells his own story of a broken dream and what happened to him once the ball stopped bouncing for him.
The same article relates that he and Gates remain friends to this day. Gates himself has become a minister in Chicago near the same neighborhood he grew up in. As a minister in Chicago, Gates serves as the perfect example of the need for a back-up plan. Drawing comparisons to Isiah Thomas in high school, Gates injured his right knee during his junior year and ended up doing more damage by returning to the court too quickly. Everything was going right for him, until the knee injury put a damper on his progress.
“It’s all about choices,” said Gates. “That’s what I try to get across to my own kids and the kids we serve at my church. It’s about empowerment and choices. Instead of a basketball scholarship, get an academic scholarship. Broaden your horizons.”
To me the power of the film is the stark reality of the lives of the people portrayed in Hoop Dreams. That even in less than optimal situations the power to dream is what fuels people’s lives. The dream of the NBA was not to be, but the simple fact of the matter is Arthur Agee and William Gates are focused on improving lives. They were fortunate enough to be successful in life in ways other than basketball. And as Hoop Dreams so gracefully depicted, not everyone is that lucky.