“My mother, God bless her, she’s always said in America you can make something of your life.”
There’s nothing like a fine documentary, and Hoop Dreams is one of the finest. The premise hooked me right away. I often wonder about all the young people in America with dreams of playing big-league athletics. I saw it constantly in middle and high school, and I’ve always wondered what it’s like to hit a point where you realize you just aren’t going to “make it.” Hoop Dreams hits this question, and many others, in such a powerful, ambitious way by following the stories of two young men through their high school years. I hate basketball, and I loved this movie.
The film leads into its two subjects, juveniles in Chicago with dreams of playing in the NBA, by starting from as far back as time will seem to allow. A man recruits young pick-up ball players to attend the well-known St. Joseph High School for basketball. The two heroes of our story, William Gates and Arthur Agee, hope to end up like the NBA great Isaiah Thomas who started at St. Mary’s in a similar circumstance. We then follow their struggles and passion for ball all the way to their college selection process.
I like to think in statistics, and Hoop Dreams really helped me see what a gamble it is to become a great basketball player. Talent is an obvious factor, but countless other complications seemed to serve as roadblocks for Gates and Agee. Financial aid failing to come through, sporadic injuries taking away months of practice, and countless other random occurrences served as tiny tragedies on the road for these two boys to chase their dreams. In a way, Hoop Dreams feels like a classic American tragedy: the basketball equivalent of Death of a Salesman, if you will. I’ve always believed that making a career out of athletics was mostly a meritocracy, but now I’m not so sure.
Director Steve James also has a beautiful eye for context. Everyone’s story gets told: Gates and Agee’s families, their friends, the basketball coaches – everyone has a dream. It’s a wonderful scope that drags the movie past the three hour mark, but it’s worth it. It elevates Hoop Dreams from an insightful film about achieving greatness to an epic evaluation of the American dream.
I imagine that this movie rings true for anyone who once dreamed of playing major-league athletics, but it will likely resonate to anyone who ever dreamed. It’s a moving, profoundly honest portrayal of the hardships we face in the hopes that we might become something special, and what happens when our delusions inevitably fade.
Seriously, this movie is beautiful, and you have to see it.
Films Left to Watch: 840