Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Hoop Dreams’

Hoop Dreams

Hoop Dreams is an extraordinary documentary about two boys who dream of becoming professional basketball players but certain life decisions and the environment they live in make it somewhat impossible for these boys to reach their dream.  They do however show great agency.  They show that hard work can actually get them places.  Both William and Arthur work religiously on improving their skills in basketball, which eventually gets them both a spot on the basketball team at St. Joseph’s High School.  This is a great opportunity for both of them, but unfortunately Arthur’s grades and his parent’s inability to pay the tuition ultimately means his departure from the school and he must go to his local high school. Even though they are going to different schools they both show agency in that they both do fairly well on their school’s basketball teams.

Tragedy strikes when William gets a knee injury and cannot play for a while, this ends up bringing down his spirits and he starts to doubt himself and his grades drop dramatically.  He is also under quite a bit of pressure from his coach and because during this time his daughter is born.  If he had been more careful he might not have injured himself and he might not have had a child, if he had been more cautious he might even be in the NBA right now.  These factors definitely hindered him towards reaching his dream.  Arthur on the other hand refuses to really try in school so he ends up failing some of his classes.  This could be due to the fact that the school did not really encourage their students to do well and the school’s resources were limited because it was a poorer inner city public school, but it could also be because he spent all of his time playing basketball.  Since basketball was his passion then practicing was definitely important, but his complete lack of care for his school work ended up ruining his chances for getting picked to be on a team at a top university, and could have ultimately ruined his chances of being drafted to the NBA.

These boys definitely had the talent, and if their talent was the only factor then they might well be in the NBA today but the hardships they faced definitely held them back.  Steve James chose these two boys to depict individual agency because in the environment they lived in and the hardships they faced, these boys needed agency to be able to succeed in any way.  Had they not had any agency then they might not have gone to college or have become so talented at basketball.

Free Agency in “Hoop Dreams”

Arthur Agee shooting a foul shot in the documentary “Hoops Dreams”- picture from


In this remarkable documentary, filmmaker Steven James depicts the lives of two African-American boys growing up in inner-city Chicago involved with the lifestyle, success, and hardships surrounding the ultimate out of basketball. As Arthur Agee  and William Gates begin to accumulate success and tribulation as they follow their ultimate dreams of playing in the NBA, Director James depicts the lives of his subjects as containing agency- personal choices that change their futures, as well as the mercy they feel towards others and outside forces.

One of the key examples of this idea of “free agency” the characters appear to have in the beginning, is the ability to go to the critically-acclaimed basketball program at St. Joseph’s High school, due to the characters’ own, developed talents. As William Gates continues to grow and improve throughout the film, the viewer gets a sense that he possess more agency, with options such as scholarships and sponsorship, tutoring for the ACT provided by the school, and even a summer job position.

However, as we continue to follow the lives of the two rising-stars, the viewers observe the decreasing agency of Arthur as his improvement and skills do not match the previously held expectations of coach Pingatore. Faced with tuition increases in the mid-semester of his freshman year, Arthur’s family cannot meet the new added expenses and he is forced to leave. While the school appears to just be following the law, the viewers observe the same issue with William resolved, due to added financial aid from a personal sponsor. In this specific example, one can see how William’s desired talents allow him more options, yet Arthur’s inability to meet such high expectations in a constantly competitive sport, creates outside control over his life and future.

Following this single event that takes place towards the beginning of the documentary, allows for one to see the butterfly effect throughout its entirety. The fact that by not meeting rigorous and somewhat grueling basketball expectations, the boys are constantly at the mercy of the game and how other more powerful people control them. James uses this depiction of agency, in my opinion, in order to shed some light on the limiting factors of the boys’ choices. Anything, or outside source that affects their value as a commodity, decreases their personal control, which would mean that their overall control is very limited even to begin with. In the words of William Gates, ” People always say to me, ‘when you get to the NBA, don’t forget about me.’ Well, I should’ve said back, ‘if I don’t make it to the NBA, don’t you forget about me.'” (

The Agency of Arthur Agee

Steve James’ documentary Hoop Dreams was released in 1994 and tells the story of two African American boys, William and Arthur, and their struggle to reach their dreams of playing pro basketball.  Throughout the entire film, the audience watches William and Arthur encounter a number of decisions that prove to have a large impact on their lives, as well as the lives of their families.  Despite the issues each new decision brings, almost everyone has the same end result in mind:  a career in the NBA.

In the movie, Arthur Agee has to decide what university/college would be best for him to attend; the idea of what is “best for him” encompasses what is best for his family and what his parents most approve of.  When meeting with the scout from Mineral Area College, Arthur sits between his mother and father, and contemplates what the “best move” would be.  On the one shoulder, Arthur’s dad, “Bo,” assures his son that any college he picks would be the right choice.  He goes on to say that even if the family has to struggle financially, they would help him achieve his dream.  While Bo is communicating this to Arthur, we see his mother, Sheila, on the other side of him shaking her head.  She is not as fond of the idea of suffering financially in order to realize Arthur’s dream; she’d prefer that Arthur attend Mineral Area College because it would be paid for, and be the responsible thing to do.  The conflicting parental views most likely stem from Bo wanting to relive his lost basketball dreams through his teenage son, and Sheila’s motherly instinct to have her entire family’s best interests at heart.  In addition to these contradictions, across from Arthur sits the Mineral Area scout, a man whose salary depends on recruiting talent and who wants to seal the deal as quickly and smoothly as possible.  The whole scene depicts a situation in which all the pressure rests on the shoulders of one teenage boy.  Ultimately, Arthur accepts the offer to Mineral Area College; whether it was of his own agency is undeterminable.  As a boy with a close relationship to his mother, the audience could assume that his choice was largely swayed by her opinion and Arthur’s wish to please her.

I think James chose to depict individual agency the way he did because he wanted to emphasize how complicated it was for these two African-American teens to accomplish what they so strongly desired.  It was apparent that William and Arthur’s decisions not only influenced their futures, but the futures of their families.  Although their personal circumstances were different, it seemed like all the choices each of the boys made were carefully considered and took multiple people into account, showing that the dreams of certain individuals are not so simply transformed into reality.  Some, unfortunately, are even impossible.

Just Another Piece of Meat

William Gates with St. Joseph's Coach Gene Pingatore

In the movie “Hoop Dreams” filmmaker Steve James made it clear that a lot of what happened in William and Arthur’s lives had nothing to do with them, but rather their path was chosen for them by external factors.  Proof of this lies with one specific instance at the beginning of the movie where talent scout Earl Smith is scouting 8th graders for the basketball team at St. Josephs in Chicago.  In the movie they focus on Smith and his interaction with Arthur but James also stated in the movie that Smith did the recruiting of William.  In this scene Smith is telling Arthur why he should be going to St. Joseph’s and why that decision is the best one if Arthur wants to go to a good college and ultimately end up in the NBA.  Arthur doesn’t realize that Smith is not doing this for the good of Arthur, but rather he wants Arthur to go to St. Joseph’s to increase his recruiting profile and look better for the coach.  Once Arthur gets to St. Joseph’s he loses all contact with Smith (until his last game as a Senior with Marshall High School) and feels like he got taken advantage of.


So the question here is, is this what filmmaker Steve James wanted us to feel as an audience?  Did he want us to feel that Arthur was forced into this decision of attending St. Joseph’s not knowing what was lying ahead?  The answer to me is yes.  It became obvious throughout the movie that Steve James wanted to show how coaches and scouts take advantage of inner city kids and their “dream” of making it out of the ghetto.  They know that these kids want to hear how they can make it to the NBA and that is what the coaches tell them.  So, while Arthur was old enough to make a decision about whether or not to go to public school or to attend St. Joseph’s, Steve James made it clear that he was more or less pushed down the route to St. Joseph’s because of the deceitfulness of the scouts and the way they took advantage of Arthur’s “dream”.


I believe that James was not just trying to show how scouts and coaches drive the lives of young players, but also that recruiting in itself needs to be limited.  He talks about how when Smith went to the playground to scout Arthur how he was looking at 8th Graders like pieces of meat.  When you chose to recruit like this rather than looking at everything in a player’s life, the result is what happened in “Hoop Dreams,” and that is scouts and coaches running the life of a player as if they have no life other than basketball.  Steve James did a great job of letting the truth out about high school basketball and the ethics that are involved in recruiting.  He did so by showing the negative sides of recruiting, and in this unfortunate case the consequences that occur when a player like Arthur Agee let scouts and coaches make the majority of the decisions in his life.