There is a moment in 1994’s “Hoop Dreams” that turns this documentary from a tale about dreaming for the NBA into a story about finding a relatable middle ground between your dreams and reality. It comes about halfway through the film when it becomes clear to one of the two high school-aged boys that he cannot continue on this path, due to a lack of money, and thus will not get into a proper school that will be noticed by the NBA.
At that point, you think the rest of the movie is going to be a downer as we watch his dreams fall apart and everything unravels. But he loves basketball so much that he will not let a little thing like that stop him. If anything, it motivates him further to stand out even more.
“Hoop Dreams” is a documentary that follows the lives of William Gates and Arthur Agee, both aspire to become the best basketball players they can be and be in the NBA. Gates and Agee both live in small poor neighboorhoods just outside Chicago, but they manage to join St. Joseph’s high school, the premier basketball school that can serve as a jumping off point to any major college they want to attend. The film chronicles their four-year journey through high school, their ups and downs, steps forward and their mishaps, whether that is a insufficient income, a fractured knee or losing power at home.
Part of the reason I had little interest in seeing “Hoop Dreams” was because of my knowledge of sports, yet never hearing the names William Gates and Arthur Agee associated with the NBA. But as I watched the film, I realized it was not just about these kids but the almost impossible journey one must take to get into professional sports. It’s just being the best you can be, nor is it being the best player on your team, but being the best out of a million people trying get into a professional sport. Whether that’s the MLB, NFL, or NBA, you have to stand above literally everyone else trying to get in.
And that’s just to get in the door, let alone staying there and making an impact. Everyone trying to get into a sport thinks they are the next Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning or Babe Ruth, but the truth is a player like that only comes along once every decade.
This makes “Hoop Dreams” a cautionary tale about the consequences of setting your dreams for an impossible goal, and the inevitable fall. But what gives the film its heart is how these two get up from that fall and find new ways to pursue their passion and love of basketball. They learn to translate that joy for sports into their lives, and to watch these real boys go through that transformation is one of the most uplifting experiences I’ve seen.
Final Grade: A-