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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.

Only Dreams of Agency

The Dream


The documentary “Hoop Dreams” is a good representation of the extent individuals can exhibit agency within their environment (or the lack thereof). The protagonist’ in the documentary, Arthur and William, start out as having the same goal of some day playing in the National Basketball Association, like their idol Isiah Thomas. When first thinking about this dream, it seems common practice for any kid to want that goal. The difference however, is that Arthur and William have no choice but, to have that dream. The kids live in a poor area of Chicago, where drug dealing is rampant, role models are nearly non-existant, and schools are not up to par. Therefore, while the boys might love basketball and express agency through the choice to play basketball, they also have no other avenue to success which erodes their agency. Education is not an option for them until, they are recruited to St. Johns because of their basketball abilities. St. Johns is an expensive private school however, and since Arthur’s basketball skills were not enough for him to afford a scholarship, he is kicked out of St. Johns forcing him to go back to his old community. Within this community, drugs are a common practice, as was seen when Arthur’s dad was arrested for drug possession as well as his best friend. Arthur did not want to go down this avenue in life and decided to dedicate himself to basketball. While the choice to play basketball instead of dealing drugs was Arthur’s choice, there was no other option for success.

Unlike Arthur, William was good enough at basketball to keep his scholarship to attend St. Johns. This allowed him to express more agency than Arthur, as was seen by him attaining a summer job and networking with individuals. Also, the headmaster at St. Johns seemed to routinely check in on William’s academic progress, as well as his basketball progress, giving him another option in life besides basketball, once high school ended. The foundation of the agency though, was still intertwined with the ability to play basketball. This pressure to not let the foundation collapse, lead to William injuring his knee because of the lack of agency basketball forced him into. Clearly hurt, William knew that without basketball, there was no St. Johns and without St. Johns there was no summer job, networking, or education. Therefore, he had to push through his body’s limitations to the extent of injury. The only time William expressed agency beyond basketball was when he had a child with his girlfriend. This action to have a child though, put even more pressure on William to succeed at basketball, so that he could go to a good college and support his new family.

James chose to depict Arthur’s and William’s lack of agency to bring light to the problem it proposes. In poor inner cities, where education is virtually non-existent, there are no other avenues to success or even expression of self other than the pursuit of dreams in the entertainment industry. The lack of agency people have when they are not given the opportunity of a formal education is astounding and that is why James portrayed it the way he did. The issue is real and should not be twisted into a fairy-tale story. We talked about possible ways to fix this problem within class and the one I propose is enforcing the “Robin Hood” act. The problem is only going to be cyclical as education is funded through property taxes and, therefore, the wealthier neighborhoods will always be at an advantage. With the “Robin Hood” act, the money is better distributed. When a high school has a $10 million football stadium and pays their football coach $100,000+ a year, while other schools do not even have buses or books, there is a problem.

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.