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Posts tagged ‘Agency’

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.

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.