By Antonio Quadra
Hoop Dreams” is, on one level, a documentary by Steve James about two African-American kids named William Gates and Arthur Agee, from Chicago’s inner city, who are gifted basketball players and dream of someday playing in the NBA. On another level, it is about much larger subjects: about ambition, competition, race and class in our society. About our value structures.
With the first shots, the director communicates the style of the documentary, objectively moving over poor districts in Chicago and taking in the sights without comment. Yet when he touches upon footage of basketball, either of kids playing in neighborhood courts or of professional games being watched on TV, the film slows down, lingers on these shots. For so many of these poor inner city kids, the NBA may be the only way out of the place they live, and basketball represents not only fame and wealth but simply happiness. Young Arthur vocalizes this in his first scene, telling the documentary crew that “when” he makes it, the first thing he’ll do is give back to his family. He’s not thinking about the models or the diamonds yet, just getting his family out of the projects and into a nice house. That shared desire among a lot of youth leads to competition, to the point that basketball recruiters now scout for kids in middle school to send them to high schools with good programs. James follows around one Earl Smith early in the film as the man talks of helping kids along “the road to success,” but he’s part of a twisted system that finds and puts too much pressure on these kids too early. Much later in the film, a host of college recruiters use terms like “meat market” and speak to each other knowingly about “hooking ’em while they’re young.”
During their freshman year, William and Arthur after being recruited to play at St. Joe’s High School, find themselves doing very well on the basketball court but uncomfortable at the school itself going to a school predominately made up of wealthy white children. Arthur feels uncomfortable around the white people at St. Joe’s because he’s never interacted with many white people and does not know how to relate to them. Also William and Arthur come from underfunded, understaffed inner city public schools, and are behind in terms of academics. William at the beginning of the year reads at a fourth-grade level but his dedication powers him through his setbacks and by the end of the year, he’s up to par. Arthur, however, is not as lucky and, combined with some not too impressive basketball performances eventually the school does not offer him the financial aid he needs and is forced to leave the school.
Hoop Dreams illustrates the reality of the recruiting system and all the complexities with it. In this movie, every failed test, every missed free throw carries weight. If their grades slip too much, not even the help of coaches can help them. And if their performance suffers, someone else might move up over them. There are no villains in the film, not even St. Joe’s, but the perversity of America’s values is clearly on display. As Arthur’s new coach at John Marshall High School says, someone at St. Joe’s would have ignored his poor grades and his poverty if he’d played like they thought he would (just look at the help that materializes around William when he runs into money problems and his grades slip). Everyone representing a school always tells the prospects and the cameras that they value education over sport, but coaches never seem to care about the players’ grades beyond the minimum requirement to qualify for scholarships. People like the coaches in the movie have turned the sports system into a business that processes people from adolescence through adulthood.
To Check Out The presentation I made that includes information about the director, characters, a scene analyzation, my artpiece, and my experience with the movie heres the link.