Hoop Dreams Then and Now

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.

  • Nate Hohl

    Nice post, Dave. I too would highly recommend “Hoop Dreams” to anyone who hasn’t seen it. And not just to sports fans. You really get a feel for what life was like for Agee and Gates growing up in the situation they did, how they felt people pulling them in different directions, and how difficult it is at that age to make some of the decisions they had to make. It’s a truly powerful film.

    I’m glad to hear they’ve both found their calling, as at the end of the film neither of their futures were clear cut. I remember wondering how things would turn out for them after I watched the movie years ago, so again it’s good to hear they’re doing well.

  • Anthony Lamar Smith

    Being a basketball player myself, growing up in South Central, Los Angeles, I can clearly recall when The Hoop Dreams’ billboards first began advertising the documentary in the neighborhood. At that time I had my faith in making it to the NBA as well. And I, too, were being bused out of the neighborhood 2.5 hrs away, to schools with greater potential than the ones in the inner city, by me. To say the least, the movie was influential the time it came out. Everyone used to ask me, ‘if I have seen it?’ And, at the time, I hadn’t. And I didn’t really have any intention on watching it. My life was directionless. All I knew was basketball. Either And-1 or NBA, those were my only choices at that time, as I made it clear to my neighborhood, that I was going to make it. And by others calling me the ‘prodigy’, only reinforced my will to achieve. I was both Gates and Agee, except I didn’t know how to accept proper guidance. They did. That’s our differences. My family went through financial hardships, mother became both parents to four kids in the absence of our father. Our struggles persisted to the point where our lights were out and we couldn’t afford grocery or to pay rent. But fortunately we made it through. Being as stubborn as I was growing up, it made people see me as unteachable and I had no direction in life. I couldn’t visualize any family members supporting me, nevertheless. But as time moves on, our stories never die. And currently, I am In the military, married with no kids, obtaining my B.S. Degree in business, staying in shape, doing free community service ventures, saving money and if allowed, will eventually become a spokesman for the importance of education in low income neighborhoods like South Central, Los Angeles. As well as a writer, educator, health practitioner role model and leader.

  • David Coleman

    Mr. Smith, thanks for the incredible response to the blog post. It is true our stories never die as time moves on. A wise man once told me that any pain or disappointment in life can be borne if a story can be told about it. I wish you luck in your ventures. Perhaps it will come full circle when you get a chance to give direction to a young person who finds themselves in a similar situation in life. By the way I’m curious as to how you came upon this posting. Its good to know people are out there reading stuff I wrote.