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Posts tagged ‘basketball’

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.


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.

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.'” (