Throwback movie review: Hoop Dreams

Courtesy of

Tatiana Rodriguez, Art & Trends Editor

Steve James’ Hoop Dreams shows the lengths that many will go to achieve their dreams despite their circumstances, showing how raw talent isn’t always enough to make a dream a reality.

Hoop Dreams starts off with the dream: going to a Division 1 college on a basketball scholarship and eventually playing in the NBA.  Arthur Agee and William Gates are introduced as hopeful freshman with similar situations. Both understand that they will need to work double, even triple, the amount of more privileged players. Though they both understand their struggle, they count their talent to stay hopeful. St. Joseph High School basketball Coach Gene Pingatore regularly comments on both of the boys’ inability to remain focused and disciplined. While both boys have the skills to play fantastic basketball, they’re received as immature and difficult. Though true when purely speaking about basketball, the film shows the other side of the player by examining the graceful and collected attitude that the two manage to maintain even when hit by obstacle after obstacle.

With these obstacles, the film is able to show how Agee and Gates are primarily valued as players. Agee realizes this first when he is devastatingly kicked out of St. Joe’s due to financial issues. Agee’s mother bluntly describes how, “…if they thought that he was as good of a ball player then there wouldn’t be no issue; they would’ve worked something out for him to stay.” Her words prove to be true for William. Gates was already a star player at St. Joseph’s, showing enough promise to land him a personal scholarship to attend the high school and continue playing. By being forced to attend Marshall Metropolitan High School, Agee felt that as a young, poor, black boy, society only valued his ability to play ball. When Gates was unable to play most of his junior year, he was quickly forgotten about and underwent massive surgeries for a shot at the NBA. Many young, black boys are often only valued for their ability to contribute to the sports industry. If they can make money for team owners, the rest of their life, their circumstances, and their feelings do not matter as long as they are able to make money. As the film goes on, Agee and Gates’ dreams diminish. Both are able to see their situations a bit more realistically now. They wish to continue playing as it is their passion, but they don’t wish to kid themselves. Not making it and having tried seems much better to them than just accepting their circumstances.

Hoop Dreams does a fantastic job at showing how privilege, or lack thereof, can significantly lower the chances one has to make their dream a reality. While talent is essential, the internal part of any player must be functioning. Agee and Gates were both unable to control the lives that they were given. Basketball was therapy for them, one of the only pure things in their lives. Their attitudes reflected their situations no matter how hard they wanted to separate themselves from them. Agee and Gates were underprivileged not only externally but internally. Hoop Dreams doesn’t show the how of a player– how did they tear a ligament, how did they let themselves miss a shot, how could they have a child at the wrong time– but rather shows the why of a boy– why they’re unfocused, why they travel ninety minutes to school each morning, why they were playing.