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Agency in Hoop Dreams

In ­Hoop Dreams, Arthur Agee and William Gates struggle with the dream to get out of the ghetto and make it to the NBA, but there is no one really in their lives to help them reach their dreams. It is all left up to their own agency in a lot of ways. However, in the documentary you can see that both Arthur and William have a hard time with larger outside forces that are outside of their control.

A few instances of agency for Arthur and William in the documentary are when the boys choose to attend St Joseph’s on partial scholarship.  They make the 90-minute trip to and from school every morning so they can have a shot to make it out of the ghetto and in to the NBA like Isaiah Thomas did coming from the same school. However, William thrives more at the school than Arthur does by making Varsity is freshman year and finding a private donor that commits to paying the rest of his tuition at St Josephs. Both Arthur and William come in to St Joseph’s with very low education levels, but William works harder to keep up his grades and learn than Arthur does. Another case where William takes his future in his own hands and shows agency is when he decides, against the coach’s advise, to be a father to the baby he and his girlfriend have.

The two boys are also at the mercy of larger forces against their control. Arthur’s family is not able to pay the balance of the tuition at St. Joseph’s so he is forced to leave the school and go back to his neighborhood high school. The high school he attends does not have a strong basketball program, so when recruiting time comes around, the larger schools are not showing any interest in him. This is hard on Arthur because he wants so badly to make it, but he just does not have the chance to do so. William also struggles against larger forces when he injures his knee. The doctors tell him that he may have to sit out the year, and the look on his face shows the pain not only in his knee but also in knowing what that would do to his chances at the NBA.

I think that James depicts agency in this way because it shows that even though that no matter how much a person wants to have control over his own future and not matter how much he work to reach their goals, sometimes he just cannot triumph over the larger forces at work against him.

Journnal Prompt: Hoop Dreams

Throughout the entirety of this documentary, William and Arthur were both used as agents of potential success for numerous parties. The most prominent of these parties being their own personal families and the coaches for whom they played basketball. The reasons for which I feel they hold agency are quite similar for each party, but provide a different end. For the boys’ families, success through basketball would mean financial success for every immediate family member. Essentially providing everyone in the family with the rags to riches story which most, who are not placed in this sort of harsh reality of coming to age, only see happening for themselves. Secondly, the coaches who coach these boys are under severe scrutiny, constantly, for whether or not they have what it takes, in terms of coaching skills, to take their potential, and turn them into lean, mean, basketball machines.

The only boys only had one choice to change their future: play basketball, and play it well. This was the only avenue to success for these boys who had come of age in distressed environments; drug infested, crime riddled, and hopeless. Arthur and William are totally and completely at the mercy of the coaches in both their separate college choices, as well as the coach they shared at St. Josephs. As painfully depicted in the film, Arthur was not only removed from the basketball team for not playing “well enough”, though he did play to his full potential at that time, but he was also removed from a higher learning opportunity, and placed back into a public school that looked at him as another Black boy in a system that doesn’t work for him anyways.

I think James chose to depict agency in this particular way because there is very little understanding of the role sports and recreational activities play in the lives of William, Arthur, and other boys like them. I think if it was one thing the director could have wanted us to learn from this movie is that what most people use to entertain themselves with (basketball here) is most certainly another thing in the lives of boys coming of age in distressed environments. Basketball is their livelihood; their way out, and even if they play to the best of their ability, their fate still lies in the hands of others. It is the sad, harsh, and unseen reality James really wanted to shed light on within this film.


WIlliam Gates and Arthur Agee, 03/05/2011,


The Road From Hoop Dreams To Realities

Throughout the 171 minutes of Hoop Dreams, there are various documented instances of agency within William and Arthur’s lives. The  filmmaker, Steve James, decides –whether he intended to or not– to portray these instances in different lights according to who was the focus of the situation and who was wielding the power.

When the documentary focused on William, his success at St. Joseph’s are attributed to the positive choices he makes –the agency that he has; William works hard to increase his reading level; William doesn’t allow himself to be intimidated by others and as a result, gains self-confidence; William works hard to get his ACT scores high enough to qualify for a scholarship: William chooses Marquette over all the other colleges. These exercises of academic agency set William up to be a hard working young man who can do great things with his future for the better…when the opportunities arise –and they do not seem to come by as often as they should for him. In contrast to the agency that positively affects William in the classroom, the agency that puts him at the mercy of someone else outside of tends to provide hardships for the promising young man. Read more

Hoop Dreams

Hoop Dreams

In the film “Hoop Dreams,” we have to wonder why the two main characters are compared to each other the way they are. William and Arthur start off in similar situations where their lives spiral onto two completely different paths because of outside influences. As kids, they believed everything that was promised to them and were vulnerable to what I would call “being sold a dream.”  William and Arthur both were talented basketball players as children, but William was more physically developed than Arthur was. William was ready to play on the Varsity level, and as a result he was able to obtain a scholarship to that private school.  William was able to reap benefits from people who were not actually affiliated with the school.  Such outside factors act as an outlet for the school system to follow their policy while simultaneously allowing special treatment to certain students.

The school was able to stand behind their regulations and seem fair behind kicking Arthur out of school. The viewer at this point empathizes with Arthur for getting kicked out of the school that seemed so promising to him. Only, as the movie goes on, we start to understand that because of what was invested in William, his biggest expectation was to play basketball well.  As William and Arthur advance through High School we see their progression in class as well as on the basketball court.  The audience views William not only in a much better facility than Arthur but also showered with extra attention in order for him to do well.  William receives one on one tutoring while Arthur has to learn Senior English in a summer school class where the teacher had to teach all high school levels at the same time.  We see William able to spend many hours practicing in the gym as Arthur works many hours at his job only making minimum wage.

Though Arthur was forced to return to his under privileged school, he finds ways to express himself.  The camera catches him with his friends listening to music, dancing, and joking around.  William seemed to be surrounded by people that he couldn’t relate to.  Perhaps James displayed Arthur’s moments of expression and not William to imply William was stripped from these opportunities because of his school.

William gets hurt his junior year and had to sit out the rest of the season.  William works hard to recover and during his senior year he returned as the team’s leading scorer during the season.  However, William speaks out and says that the same teammates that idolized him before he was hurt lost respect for him when he returned because he wasn’t as explosive as he used to be.  We see Arthur progression on the court through high school.  Arthur was not the leading scorer on the team through school and his coach had many thoughts on how he could improve, but Arthur’s chemistry with his teammates was much stronger than William and his teammates.

Through all the extra perks and attention William received compared to Arthur, the audience watches William express to his coach that he wasn’t generally pleased with his time at the private school. I believe James captured a great moment with the audience when the coach says to the camera, “it’s how it goes… One kid goes out, another one comes in.” William couldn’t relate to his coach. His coach was there to win and win only, which explains why they recruited. Arthur’s coach believed in him. Arthur may not have gotten the best education, but he wasn’t a victim to any system. He was able to mature into the man that he wanted to become.

The viewer is able to see both lives develop. The beginning and the end of the movie tell the whole story. Arthur had a harder life, but in the end he pursued his basketball dream longer than William did. Perhaps James wanted his viewers to understand that maybe ones destiny is a result of a person’s ambition and not in the advanced commodities around you.  Because of all the extra attention from his coaches, teachers, and his sponsor William was expected to become a “promising athlete.”  Once he hurt himself he lost the attention from his teammates and his coach.  William expresses that his coach would not empathize with him whenever he went to his coach with personal problems not relating to basketball.  James shows how William is pushed to go to college.  William is able to take his ACT 5 times before he becomes eligible to get into a four year institution.  At the same time, James shows how easy it would have been for Arthur not to finish school.  His best friend dropped out of high school and his mother was more focused on Arthur finishing high school than going to college.  Arthur finishing high school and enrolling into a Junior college showed Arthur’s will and determination.

James’ “Hoop Dreams,” exposes the reality of special treatment.  Arthur was still in college by the time William dropped out.  The audience sees Arthur enjoying high school more than William even though William was in a much better school.  Had William stopped playing basketball he probably would have lost his scholarship and got kicked out of school just as Arthur did.  William did not have as many options as he did perks in high school.  Arthur made the choice to finish school and go to college.  William was pushed to go to college.  William was a part of a system designed to make sure their students get to college.  Arthur was part of a community where many never made it to college.  I think this was what James wanted his viewers to see.  Arthur was able to make his own choices when following his dream.  William was promised his dream as long as he followed the designed program.  My guess is that after it was all said and done, William would be the one to say, “If I could relive high school, I would of made the choice to do things differently.”

The Tables Have Turned

In “Who is the Route 29 Batman? This guy,” Michael S. Rosenwald writes of the man two cops had a strange encounter with on Route 29. He was driving a black Lamborghini with a Batman symbol on his license plate. The man pulled over was in a complete Batman costume, the interior of the car was fully accessorized with the Batman logo. His current costume is worth $5,000 and the one he has ordered is $250,000. He is a man who made his wealth as Batman by going to hospitals and playing with sick children. His “name” is Lenny B, as in Batman, Robinson and his inspiration came from his son who was a huge Batman fan. Usually it is the children who want to emulate the parents, but obviously in this situation the tables have turned.

Lenny "Batman" Robinson visiting sick children in a hospital, dressed in his full costume. Clearly a compassionate and non-violent Batman.


The original superheroes have their roots in comic books. Children have a strong interest in superheroes partly because they seem to be immune to law, they save the “good guys” and beat the “bad guys.” This is one of the reasons why parents, as seen in The Ten-Cent Plague, had so much trouble allowing their children to read these comic books. Parents did not want their children to defy the law, not to mention all the violence that goes along with fighting the “bad guy.”


Instead, “Route 29-Batman” has turned the superhero into an entity of compassion. He supports children in their fight for cancer and other diseases in hospitals by sharing joy. He is looked up to for what he both traditionally and non-traditionally represents. Passing out toys and concealing his true identity by day, Batman lives out his son’s dreams.

Hoop Dreams Priorities

Arthur Agee carried off the court by his Marshall teammates in the film "Hoop Dreams"

Arthur Agee carried off the court by his Marshall teammates in the film "Hoop Dreams"

The 1994 documentary film “Hoop Dream” directed by Steve James portrays the story of two African American boys, William Gates and Arthur Agee, in the pursuit of their dream, becoming a professional basketball player. In the beginning, both of the boys display an amazing athletic talent while in middle school. Due to this, a scout from Westchester, Illinois recruits the teenagers to attend the prestigious school of St. Joseph High School. St. Joseph is a private school with an extremely recognizable basketball program particularly known for recruiting and developing Isiah Thomas, a NBA basketball star. To nobody’s surprise, the boys are delighted to attend the school and with their parents permission embark on their new journey.

Through the first academic year, William develops as expected. He plays as desired by the coach, maintains a great academic record, and finds the school is well-tailored to him. Arthur, however, does not achieve St. Joseph’s level of competency. His ability in the basketball court falls short from expectations. When tuition costs rise, the story takes a huge twist. Both of the boys coming from low income families cannot afford the new cost, so the school makes cut-throat decisions. First, they aide William by finding him additional scholarships, trying everything in their power to permit him to stay. Then they present Arthur with two options: pay the other half of the tuition fee or leave. Half a semester passes by and Arthur is forced to leave school losing all he had gained, not just in his basketball dream but academically as well.

As the school presented their decision to Arthur, I found it extremely ironic that the scout told Arthur how he and St. Joseph would do everything in their power to help him accomplish his dream but in the end they destroyed it. At the beginning of the film Earl Smith, the scout from St. Joseph, says that he “helps young people on their road to success.” Yet after one year and a half of a semester Arthur’s road was cut short before any sign of success is seen. The scout knew Arthur and his family were incapable of paying the tuition cost before recruiting him and every school knows that upon early termination of a semester, no credit is awarded to a student so the semester is lost, neither of the options display an indication of aide and help to fulfill a dream. Arthur was cornered to do as the school wanted, leave. He was first treated as a powerful individual with control of his future when in reality he was simply a puppet for St. Joseph to market as they pleased. Arthur’s mother said that the scout offering the basketball players the scholarship to come play with them, “don’t want them to figure out that the story is totally different. I was under the impression I was going to have help in getting him into school, … getting his books, … but yet none of that occurred.” The head basketball coach, Luther Bedford, from Marshall Metro is under the impression that St. Joseph got rid of Arthur because he was not playing as well as they wanted, if he would have, they would have made some type of arrangement for him to stay just like they did for William.

If the scout had never recruited Arthur, he would have transitioned into Marshall Metro High School, the public school he returned to upon leaving St. Joseph with no crushed dreams, no debt, and no lost semester. In the end, the scout did more harm than good to Arthur.

Tough Decisions

Throughout Steve James’ Hoop Dreams, the main characters, Arthur Agee and William Gates, had many tough decisions to make.  They were faced with the everyday challenges that come along with living in the inner-city, as well as the pressure of basketball on their shoulders every single day.  They had a ton of choices to make throughout the movie, but were these choices really theirs to make?  Were the choices even their families’ to make?  Sometimes when it comes down to certain decisions, the outside world influences your decision and takes away the opportunity to choose.

Agee and Gates both have a choice to make: should they go with the man that recruited them to St. Joseph’s to play basketball for a more prestigious program than their public high schools?  The answer for both kids was yes.  Not necessarily because they wanted to, but because they had to.  The choice was never theirs to make.  Both Agee and Gates dreamed of playing professional basketball.  When St. Joseph’s came calling and showed the kids their superior facilities, better coaches, higher basketball prestige, and the network of scouts and recruiters that came to their games, it was a no-brainer for the kids.  They had to go to St. Joseph’s.  Not to mention the fact that it was a private school with good academics and a support system that is there to catch you if you start to fall, unlike anything that exists in the public schools.  Not only was the goal of professional basketball their dream, but it was a dream adopted by their families as well.  It was a means for their families to move out of the inner city.  So basketball ruled the decisions for this family whether they liked it or not.  The decision to attend St. Josephs ultimately hurt Agee, as he had to drop out because he couldn’t afford it and he missed a semester’s worth of credits.  Often times these kids do not have the privilege to choose what they want, but rather are forced to take the only option that makes sense.

By the end of the movie, both kids eventually realized they were going to have to mature and make the right decisions for themselves.  While neither player played a significant role on a college basketball team and neither player made it to the NBA (their original goal), they both made the right decision to further their life.  They both successfully used basketball as a tool to further their education and as a means to get themselves into an institute of higher learning.  They both took it into their own hands – made their own decisions – to take advantage of the opportunities they had in front of them, even if they meant not achieving their childhood dreams of playing professional basketball.

Arthur Agee after a Marshall Victory