Let’s Get Reel: Hoop Dreams
March 11, 2017
Filed under Life & Style
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Every year, my high school basketball team would get together mid way through the season and watch two movies: Hoosiers and Glory Road. Both films chronicle the ups and downs of a competitive basketball team, faced with issues like poverty, racism, drug use and the emotional rollercoaster all sports generate. While not everyone could relate to all these issues, the passion and commitment to each other displayed by those teams was inspiring. Glory Road also has an amazing soundtrack. Although Hoop Dreams shares similar themes, it broaches them from a much more serious angle. Two hours and 52 minutes long, the film might seem like too much of a commitment for a causal watch. Every minute is necessary though; filmed over the course of four years, Hoop Dreams follows two boys from inner city Chicago in the 1990s as they pursue their dreams of playing in the NBA.
William Gates and Arthur Agee are introduced as 9th graders. Gangly and shy off the court, both boys stood out because of their budding confidence and talent when playing. A local recruiter, who wanted to provide inner city kids with an opportunity to get a private education, brings both boys to St. Joseph’s High School. The first two years for William and Arthur start strong but expectations were high, and their paths diverge when Arthur’s grades and family financial situation plummets. He heads back to the local public school, where his grades “just get by.”
For William, after receiving a sponsorship from an outside family, he “carelessly” leads his team to many victories. By his sophomore year, his future basketball career looks bright. But, complications with a knee injury and the birth of his daughter throw a wrench into his plans. While he continues to get recruited by college teams, the unwarranted bullying, verbal harassment and pressure to meet expectations from his coach take a clear toll on William. His smile becomes rare. The coach claims to push William for his own good, but watching William’s mental state deteriorate makes it clear that the coach is doing him no good at all.
Arthur’s basketball career flourishes at Marshall High School and he leads his team to third in the state. His successes come during a time of great adversity for his family. After leaving the family for a year because of drug addiction and incarceration, Arthur’s father returns during his junior year and struggles to win back a place in his son’s heart. Arthur’s mother, a beacon for women’s empowerment, provides for her family on an unbelievable $280 welfare check each month while simultaneously attending nursing school. Her strength and support for Arthur are a huge part of his success.
The film feels honest. It recounts the laborious high school years of William and Arthur through interviews with them and their family members and there is little voiceover—used only really to narrate the basketball games which I found myself getting excited and heavily invested in throughout the film, holding my breath each time William and Arthur bravely took the final shot or layup needed to win a game. Hoop Dreams does not rely on theatrics and it does not romanticize the boys’ journeys. It was Arthur and William and their families’ perseverance that made those three hours well worth the time. If you’re looking to better understand the inspiring potential of professional basketball but also the adversity that must be overcome to get there, this is the movie to watch. Just as much, if not more so though, this is a film about the power of familial love.