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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

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.

Hoop Dreams

Hoop Dreams follows the lives of two inner-city Chicago high school basketball stars trying to make it into the big leagues.  Along the way, they boys are dragged through many different obstacles, but also given extraordinary opportunities when offered the chance to play at St. Joseph’s.  The boys faced both self-created obstacles, and obstacles which were far beyond their spectrum of control throughout their high school lives, and all of these factors affected their chances to make it or break it in the competitive world of basketball.

Both Arthur and William make choices which affect their eventual chances of reaching the NBA or getting drafted into a stellar college basketball program. Be it Arthur’s too low test scores and failing grades, or William’s decision to keep and help raise a baby, the boys are subjected to managing their basketball careers around their self-made challenges, making it overly difficult for themselves.   Arthur was a few points away from eligibility to play at a NCAA four-year school, but his lack of effort held him back from ever getting the chance.  William, on the other hand, had the scores to get his college letters, but continually had to manage his life around his child.  In these ways, the boys had self-inflicted challenges to keep them from their dreams, but they also faced many challenge in which they had no control.

Both boys came from inner city schools with very little family money to pay the cost of an expensive private school education. A father’s drug addiction and unemployment only further worked against the boy’s dream of reaching the NBA and getting recruited at a top-tier basketball college.  Returning to the inner city schools with an inability to keep up with tuition only further deteriorate the chances of reaching their goals.  The financial issue seems to be the most pressing uncontrollable issue against the success of both boys, and regardless of their self-inflicted challenges, the issue of money was always going to hold them back from easily attaining their hoop dreams.


Hoop Dreams

Picture of Arthur Agee and William Gates from

In the film, Hoop Dreams, filmmaker Steve James shows two African American boys, Arthur and William, as they face many challenges throughout their lives that come in the way of their original plans for their futures, basketball. There are numerous external struggles that they both encounter on their journey towards a career in basketball, which leads to important decisions that must be made by the boys and their family members.

The film begins with Arthur and William entering high school as freshmen, both with high expectations of who they wanted to be in the future. Both Arthur and William were promised to help achieve their goal by a recruiter in setting them up with scholarships from St. Josephs, a private high school in the suburbs of Chicago. The recruiter, while still trying to help the boys, had outside motives in recruiting the boys though. Both boys would end up leading very different lives from that point on. The recruiter, Mr. Smith, admits in the film that he wants Arthur to go to St. Joseph to help himself in his career as a recruiter and look superior for the coach. Arthur then starts to not do as well as hoped at his short time in St. Joseph, which leads him to lose his scholarship and be forced to return to his public school. Arthur’s mother openly admits that if she had realized that St. Joseph was not going to provide him with a scholarship his entire time there she would have opposed him going in the first place. On the other hand William excelled during his time at St. Josephs, and was promised a scholarship for college, but a catastrophic injury to his knee would prove to be too much to overcome. After William’s injury, his coach did not seem to care as much for him then as he did in the beginning.

I believe that the filmmaker, James, chose to depict individual agency the way he did because he wanted to portray how difficult it is to be in an industry where the players are treated like pieces of meat even from the time they are freshmen in high school. In one scene when William was being evaluated by college recruiters, one of the recruiters said, “They have NBA bodies already”.  This shows recruiting in a negative way, because it shows that these people are usually only in it for the end game and how scouts and coaches make important life changing decisions for these young boys without care of possible negative outcomes. All in all, it was a sad story, but it is a story that many lessons can be learned from.