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By Anna

It takes a lot of patience and a lot of guts to follow (and watch) two boys from middle school age to college. If nothing else, that’s what makes Hoop Dreams a great film—persistent and patient filmmaking.

But Steve James’1994 Hoop Dreams is great for more than filmmaking. It’s got a little of a devil-may-care feel as it runs at 171 minutes with little mood-manipulating music. The documentary is raw and gets the audience into these boys’ lives so much that the viewer knows them.

Hoop Dreams follows William Gates and Arthur Agee for almost six years as they attempt to fulfill their dreams of playing in the NBA. As the young boys try to make it into a high school (and then college) with a good basketball program in Chicago, everything gets in their way: hormones, parents, drugs, school, injuries, and death.


Gates has a natural ability and can dunk the ball at 14. At St. Joseph’s High School he had a kid, injured his knee, and took the ACT four times to finally get the 18 he needed to attend Marquette University. His brother, Curtis, went to college on a basketball scholarship, but was “uncoachable” and ended up dropping out. He wants a better life for his brother. Almost 10 years after the film’s release, Curtis was murdered.


Agee worked at Pizza Hut for $3.35 an hour. He was recruited by predominately white St. Joseph High School, but couldn’t afford it after his sophomore year, so he attended public school (though St. Joe’s is still after him, but not for his skills this time, for his $1,300 in tuition he owes). Before his junior year, his dad left home and appears on and off screen and in his life until he was murdered in 2004.

Both attended St. Joe’s and hated academics. But they don’t talk about each other and, as far as we know, hardly knew each other. Gates started on Varsity as a freshman and Agee started on the freshman team.

Though Gates was the more naturally talented, Agee is the one to go onto the University of Illinois and succeed (even after having two kids of his own in junior college). Gates will finish at Marquette and become a real estate agent.

Spike Lee, Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzeski all make appearances in the film (at the Nike Camp Gates attended), but nothing about the documentarian’s interviews with them or shots of them are glorified. They are not the story. Basketball isn’t even the story.

The story is found in the playground in inner city Chicago and in Agee’s mother’s words about wanting the best for her son no matter what she has to sacrifice (including having no electricity or water part of the time). And it’s compelling in the fact that after six years the filmmakers had a story, where they couldn’t be sure they would find one.

Like good art, Hoop Dreams has so much to offer that after every viewing the audience will walk away with more than they got the previous time.