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Posts tagged ‘Agency’

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

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

Hoop Dreams

Arthur Agee

image of Arthur Agee from

In the documentary “Hoop Dreams,” the lives of two teenage boys, Arthur Agee and William Gates, are followed throughout their high school basketball careers. Throughout the documentary it is apparent that many factors outside of the boys’ control greatly affect the way their lives pan out. The main factor that made the difference between the boys lives, was when Arthur had to drop out of St. Joseph’s private school because his parents were unable to afford the tuition. Because Arthur had to go back to his school that was in his neighborhood in the projects, this ended up making his life much more different than William’s. William was fortunate in that he had people offer to help pay his tuition and he was able to stay at the elite private school. The director, Steve James, does a great job of showing how different the boys’ lives are because of the different schools they attend. Because of the incident of Arthur having to switch schools, it is shown how impactful events where the boys’ are unable to show agency are.

While Arthur and William may have had the ability to decide how hard they would work for their goals, Steve James makes it obvious that because of the school William is able to attend, he is given more chances to succeed. An example of this is when William is trying to make a certain grade on the ACT so he can be admitted into the college of his choice. Because William is surrounded by supportive educators with the resources to help him at his new school, he is constantly being told by others what he needs to do to get into college. He is also provided with tutors to help him and adults who encourage him to take the ACT over and over again until he finally makes the grade he needs to. In Arthur’s case he is not so lucky. At his school he does not have people constantly telling him what he needs to do to get into a university, nor does he have the same resources available to him that William does. It seems like if Arthur wants to succeed he has to try a lot harder to figure things out for himself, while William is basically handed what he is supposed to do to be able to get into college.

When thinking about this documentary is strange to realize how the boys’ basketball abilities were what the determining factor in how their lives turned out was. Decisions were made for them based on these abilities and in turn so many other aspects of their lives were affected. Overall in this main incident, James portrays the boys as having little agency.

Hoop Dreams

Throughout Hoop Dreams you see both Arthur and William struggling with the unfortunate circumstances they were born into.  Arthur’s father ditches him at the park for a drug deal.  His family’s finances are such that there is never a guarantee of electricity. William is from a broken home. Uneducated and unprepared, he becomes a teen statistic, a father before he even graduates high school.  With all of these things going against them, and without having the slightest ability to change these conditions you would think they would merely be a product of their environment.

They do however, manage to rise above though their ability to play basketball, but is this their choice? From a young age they have been recruited and sought after to play basketball for the private high school. Educationally it is light years above the education they would get at the public school in their area. The only thing in the movie at the point of their entrance into St. Joseph’s that I could see them having any control over is whether or not they take advantage of this gift. That too though is only momentary for Arthur.  When he doesn’t perform the way the recruiter initially anticipated, they don’t offer him enough scholarship to cover the increase in tuition for the next year, and he is forced to return to the public high school.

As a kid, you can’t control your finances, so that force defeats Arthur. They don’t really go into it, but I assume that finance and lack of education are also the reason that William ends up a father so young. Neither one of them can control who their parents are. This movie shows how much of life is out of our control.  It’s the luck of the draw what parents you get, how much money you have, the neighborhood you grow up in, etc. and those things add up and determine a lot of the opportunities you will have. I think that is what James was trying to show in the way he depicted this story.

Arthur in Despair from





Hoop Dreams and Agency

Hoop Dreams is a documentary filmed in 1994 that follows two inner-city African American teenage boys who hope to one-day play professional basketball. The teenage boys, William Gates and Arthur Agee, have high aspirations to go to college and provide for their families, despite the harsh environment they have grown up in and face each day.

Throughout the film, both Arthur and William make decisions that not only affect their lives, but also strongly affects the lives of their parents, siblings, and in William’s case, his child. With this being said, both of the boys express agency in different times during the documentary. In the beginning, the boys are both scouted and given the opportunity to attend St. Joseph’s High School. They both know this decision could strongly affect their futures because of the school’s nationally acclaimed basketball program and its most famous alumnus, Isiah Thomas. Arthur and William both decide to attend St. Joseph’s, but their experiences soon take different paths, as Arthur has to drop out due to tuition costs and William continues to become St. Joseph’s star player. Another big decision has to be made when William gets injured. Although this injury seems to be pretty serious, he knows he has to start playing again as soon as possible so he can be scouted for colleges. At this point in the film, it is not only William’s parents and siblings that are counting on him to make it, but he also has a child he is worried about providing for. In the end, one of the biggest decisions Arthur and William have to face is which college they should attend. Both of their families are hoping their basketball talents will take them into college and beyond so they can be taken out of their poverty-stricken situations. William ends up choosing Marquette University and Arthur decides to go to a junior college in order to later be given a scholarship by a bigger university.

The filmmaker, Steve James, chose to show this idea of agency the way he did in order to depict the way in which inner-city kids have little to no say in the decisions they are forced to make. Arthur and William were lucky enough to be given a great talent for something, but this talent came with a price. Even if they wanted to give up basketball, they knew that would never be an option so long as it was providing for their families.