|Steve James Director|
A documentary following to young, inner city, youths with dreams to make into the NBA. With raw talent and skill the boys are recruited, sought after, and pulled in many different directions throughout their high school careers and leading up to college.
"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."
We don't have a cast associated with Hoop Dreams.
A 1994 documentary following to young boys in the projects of Chicago dreaming of becoming NBA superstars but their talent doesn't let them escape their surroundings and those trying to use their talent for their own game. Directed by Steve James, the film was released to a great reception for showing the truth behind how young men are treated and for showing a general snapshot of how life was for Americans at the time, especially African Americans.
We are introduced to two young teenagers, William Gates and Arthur Agee, who have become budding basketball players, endowed with a lot of talent, and who are being courted by a private high school. The private high school that wants both boys, St. Joseph High School, make promises including a full ride scholarship and a top of the line education, not to mention a former student in Isiah Thomas an NBA superstar. The two families both accept the offer and for their freshman year Gates and Agee take a 90 commute everyday just to get to school, practice nearly everyday, and still have to keep their grades up.
Agee doesn't make the varsity team and after one year at the private school his family is unable to pay the newly raised tuition and is forced to drop out and transfer to a public school. Gates begins to flourish at the school, his teachers give him some extra attention allowing him to learn and understand his school work better, and a private citizen decides to cover Gates' extra tuition costs for school. By sophomore year Agee's life at home seems to worsen as his father begins to form an addiction to drugs and makes life at home worse. Gates however is proving to be the basketball talent St. Joseph's wanted him to be and the team quickly makes into the state basketball tournament.
Their junior year for both young men isn't what either of them expected. Agee's father ends up leaving the family and even comes back assaulting Agee's mother and robbing his former home, putting him in jail. Gates injures his knee and after surgery is out for the entire season. Towards the end of the season as the St. Joseph team makes the state tournament again and Gates has a decision to make if he wants to play at all. With his coach leaving it up to him Gates chooses to play which only ends up re-injurying his knee. Gates' family member decides to bring Gates to a different doctor, one without ties to St. Joe's and with ties to actual professional teams, who tells Gates he shouldn't have played or even given the option to play. Gates go under another surgery but will be able to play for his senior season.
After a summer at the Nike All-Star basketball camp Gates is ready to make a mark during his senior season, especially after the college Marquette has convinced him to sign a letter of intent to play for them. As the year continue on Agee's father comes back a seemingly changed man, clean from drugs, and ready to give his family a father they deserve. Agee and his team begin their season dramatically different than the year before, by winning. Both St. Joseph and Agee's public high school make it into the state tournament, a real accomplishment for Agee's team since they were considered huge underdogs.
Gates leads his team as far as they can go but fail to go to deep into the tournament and Agee is there for Gates' big loss for support. The two never forgot their freshman year together and have formed a bond through adversity. Agee's team plays for the state title and lose only one game out from playing for the state championship. Despite the loss Agee and his team celebrate an amazing season that no one expected.
As the year ends and summer dawns Gates takes the ACT for the fifth time finally earning a score of 18 which allows him his scholarship at Marquette. Agee is courted by much smaller, two year, junior colleges which provide him a jump start on his education promising a full ride and, if he earns it, a chance to play and learn at a division one school.
Neither boy ever make it to the NBA draft but their lives, and even the documentary itself, are impacted and they are both able to turn the lives into something special. The film is less about seeing two young men trying to be NBA players but instead two young boys surviving a the harsh world around them which accurately reflects the world around all of us.
The film was originally possible through PBS, specifically a PBS branch out of Chicago, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Originally the idea was to produce a half hour show that would air on PBS and was only to be shot for about 3 weeks with a focus only on basketball players on their local courts. Those behind the cameras soon followed the kids back home and discovered the lives they lived and a three week shoot turned into seven years.
During the long production the focus shifted quickly to two of the kids, Agee and Gates, and the entire footage was turned into a feature documentary. Throughout the production the cameras were occasionally there during some of the worst parts of the boy's lives. For a time Agee's family was unable to pay their electricity bill and their utility shut off. In order to keep shooting, due to the need for lighting, the production paid for the lights to be turned back on.
The film was received very warmly by critics who called it a great picture of life in America for those not living the middle class kind of life. It is also praised for being one of the best films about sports ever made. Originally when the film went to the Academy Award committee that decided the nominees for best documentary the film barely managed 20 minutes before the committee decided to move on.
Which such critical accolade but no nomination for the award the public complained and the committee process, which included pointing flashlights at a screen when the committee wanted to skip the movie, was changed.
To this day this film is considered one of the best documentaries and one of the best films ever made. At the end of its box office run the film made nearly $12 million.