Picture of Arthur Agee and William Gates from blogspot.com
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.
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.
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.