Thursday, October 11, 2012

30 in 30 - Day 10: Hoop Dreams

Tonight was the night that I watched the movie that was (for the most part) the inspiration for my 30 in 30 quest.

When I decided to pursue this month-long goal, one of the parameters I set was that the documentaries I'd be watching had to be ones I'd never seen before.  There were a few "no-brainers" on the list and this movie topped them all.

I'm a little embarrassed that I have never watched this film in its entirety.  After watching it tonight....I'm kicking myself even more that I haven't viewed it until now.

Tonight's film - Hoop Dreams

Hoop Dreams (1994)
170 mins.
Rated: PG13 (some drug content and some strong language)

"Two inner-city Chicago residents follow their dreams of becoming basketball superstars.  Beginning at the start of their high school years and ending almost 5 years later, as they stat collecge, we watch the boys mature into men, still retaining their Hoop Dreams." (source: imdb)

Link to the film - I watched it online via Youtube

When I first saw that this film clocked in at almost 3 hours, I was not looking forward to the grind (especially after last night's lengthy show).  But after watching this doc, I wanted to see and know more.  I didn't want it to end.

Do not be intimidated by the length of this movie.  It's that good.

We start by meeting two youths as they are about to enter their high school years.  William Gates and Arthur Agee - both aged 14.  They live in Chicago and their families are struggling to get by.  Both kids love - LOVE basketball and dream of one day making it to the NBA.

They are brought to St. Jospeh High School to participate/tryout for their school team.  This is the same school Isiah Thomas went to (and even show up to meet the kids....Arthur plays a little one-on-one with him as well).  Both feel excited at the prospects of playing at this school and sees it as the first step towards their dream.

Their freshman season shows a big difference between the two kids.  Arthur, who travels three hours round trip to attend this school, struggles.  Struggles with the playing system, struggles with the schoolwork and struggles fitting in socially.  William thrives.  He becomes a starter on the team and almost leads the team to the state tournament.  He starts getting noticed for his play almost immediately.

As their sophomore season begins, we learn that William is receiving some aid in tuition from a sponsor.  Williams tuition is paid for.  Arthur's family is required to pay for half the costs of attending.  Something that has become difficult to do with fees increasing and Arthur's mom losing her job.  Arthur is forced to leave the St. Joseph's and attend a local high school.  This also places stress on the family.

William is finding pressure of his own through his coach as well as his older brother Curtis.  Curtis had dreams of basketball as well but did not reach them.  He is now living his dreams through William...something Will finds difficult to deal with.  St. Joseph just misses out going to the state tournament again.

Junior year and William starts getting invites from a lot of colleges.  Many are pegging him to be the next Isiah Thomas.  His coach is pushing him to get the team to the state tourney.  He too expresses the comparison to Thomas.  But Gates would encounter a different kind of struggle this year - a knee injury puts him out for most of the season.  Surgery and rehab are on his calendar for the next 12 weeks.

Arthur continues to play ball at his local high school.  He struggles both on court and at home where his mom is now on welfare.  At one point, the power is cut to their house and they are forced to live in the dark for the time being.

Here's where the story takes a bit of a turn.  Where it's been all about becomes more.  William becomes a father.  This new addition coupled with his injury has led to a lack of focus in his schoolwork.  His grades drop and there is concern as he is about to return to the lineup.  Once again, Gates and St. Joseph's are defeated at sectionals.  He re-injures his knee and requires a second surgery.

Arthur struggles with the return of his dad to the picture (after his battle with cocaine and a jail sentence).  Arthur's dad claims he has now found his way.  Arthur clearly does not trust his elder.

William talks about his relationship (or lack of) with his dad and how he plans on being a better role model for his kid.  He continues rehab in preparation for his senior year.

The struggles that both Arthur and William are facing seem very similar in may ways, but are also very different.  It's interesting to see the polar opposite effect placed right beside so many similarities.

Arthur is required to take summer school in order to get his grades up.  He is not focused in class and there is a chance he may not graduate.  William on the other hand is invited to the Nike All-American Camp and is scouted by dozens of the top recruiters in the country.

Senior year sees a change in both kids.  William signs a letter of intent to attend Marquette but is finding he is not as passionate about the game.  He is not committing and not playing with confidence.  Arthur is beginning to turn things around both on the court and off.  He now sees what he needs to do in order to get a college recruitment.

While William's team is very successful, both the coach and Gates are not happy.  His coach says he lacks the right temperament for the game and in his last crack at making it to the state championship - he's benched for showing up late to the game.

Arthur's team is finding success and they keep on winning through the playoffs...winning city's and going to the state tournament.  Heavy underdogs, they continue to win.  They reach the semi-finals where their dream season finally ends.  Arthur's never quit attitude places him on the all-state team.

But his success on the court does not reflect his life off it.  His parents separate again and the struggle with his dad continues.  He signs with a junior college, but he is clearly not happy about the event.

William in the meantime is no longer inspired by basketball.  He is frustrated by his coach, his injury, his academics.  He squeaks out the grades needed to attend Marquette and is on his way to college.

Arthur graduates from summer school and gets his diploma.  Just before his graduation day he is robbed at gunpoint leading him to reassess his desire to go to college and "get out of here".  He sees that he needs to leave the life of his friends (and his dad) in inner-city Chicago.

The film ends with a reflection of the past five years.  What started out as a strong dream for each to go to the NBA has changed drastically.  Both realize there is more out there than just sport.

Oh boy......I think I wrote a lot again.

But this film is more than just a sports documentary.  It's about family, struggles, emotion, friendships, successes and failures.  The pace and flow of this film coupled with the ambience, music and real-life settings thrust you into an immediate investment in these two kids.  You literally see them grow up in front of you.  You root for both - hard, and cheer their achievements and suffer through their disappointments.

Is there anything special about these kids?  Yes.....and no.  They aren't (and weren't) superstars in the making.  They were a pair of ball players who had a dream.  And the director of this doc captured that with amazing effectiveness.

I could go on for a while about why I liked this movie, but I've typed enough.  GO SEE THIS FILM.  Invest the three hours.  You'll be glad you did.

And when you are finished, do what I did.  I needed to know "What happened to these two guys?" so I did some Google searches.  Don't do it before hand.  All I'll say is that their lives seem to continue the rollercoaster ride of life's up's and down's.  A 20 years after doc would be  great to see.

4.5 out of 5

Here are some other reviews I found online for the film...

Rotten Tomatoes

Roger Ebert

Washington Post

Next up...Never Say Die - The Story Of The New York Islanders


  1. It's been so long that I can't remember if I've seen all of this movie or not. I suspect not, due to the run time, but I should check it out soon, too. I do remember seeing Arthur Agee play for the Winnipeg Cyclone way back in the day! I don't think he made it through the season, though. May have been cut.

    The NYI 'doc' will give you a break. I think it's a short one!

    1. Well it's something I'm looking to buy to have in the collection. When I get it....I'll let you borrow it.

      It would be much more enjoyable to watch on a bigger screen than on a computer.