First, let me confess that I have been bored by sports for the
past twenty years--name any sports star, and I've never heard of him or
her. Second, I love documentaries above all movies. Third, like the
people in this movie, I was once on a sports team in a quest for the
big state championship--in my case I was on a team (Garland) that won
the Texas state high school football championship 2 years in a row
(1963 and 1964), and we even played one of our playoffs in the Cotton
Bowl. Finally, I came from a poor but stable family. All of this
affects my extreme and strongly positive reactions to this incredible
To set the stage for HOOP DREAMS, let me pose a few questions to
you. Are you aware that public and private high schools today have
scouts that recruit potential star athletes while they are in GRADE
SCHOOL? Are you aware that grade schoolers are offered scholarships
to private high school with all of the tuition paid plus jobs in the
summer if they are and stay athletic stars? Do you know what happens
if their grades fall down or if they turn out to be mere mortals and
not athletic gods?
To state the same facts in a different light, are you aware that
there are schools so nice that they will give ghetto kids the ability
to leave an awful environment where they could be killed and where
there are almost no job opportunities? Are you aware of the
incredible expense the schools will go through to keep their stars in
top physical shape and how generous they are with money to treat
HOOP DREAMS is a documentary of over five years of the lives of
two boys, their families, coaches, friends, and recruiters. At the
first of the movie we see the boys being recruited by St. Joseph's
which is 1-1/2 hours one way from their home. They both start there on
scholarships and commute every day by train. From there the movie
takes many turns. They are all fascinating, but you will have to see
the movie, I will not spoil it.
In the movie you get to know very well, not only the two kids
(William Gates and Arthur Agee), but both sets of parents, and the St.
Joseph's coach. You begin to feel how hard it is to make it in the
ghetto. I was poor when growing up, but nothing compared to this level
of poverty plus these kids came from unstable homes whereas I had the
blessing of a stable one. Nevertheless, I found myself really
empathizing with these boys. I wanted them to make it SO much. Their
triumphs thrilled me, and when they would not apply themselves, I
wanted to shake them and say wake up you have some great opportunities
here--don't blow it.
Both Daddies were NBA wannabees. They each thought they could
have made it if they had just done this or that. The moms were also
quite interesting, and you really felt their daily struggles to make
ends meet. The St. Joseph's coach was easy to dislike, yet there was
something ultimately redeeming about him as well.
As a documentary maker, Steve James, is one of the best based on
this movie. Imagine investing over five years of your life just in the
filming. The camerawork, especially toward the end, is more evocative
of a bigger budget movie than the usual home movie flavor you normally
get in a documentary. The marvelous editing by Bill Haugse, Steve
James, and Frederick Marx has a lot of energy and although you are
sitting in your seat for a long time, you never get tired because the
subject matter is so interesting, and it is so well done.
Sports movie are especially tricky. You can show a lot of sports
action and do little story development, or you can mainly talk about
sports with some shots to illustrate your points. This movie hits just
the right compromise--again, great editing. You see a lot of
basketball, but mainly it dwells on the kids and their families. If
there is a villain in the show, it is probably the recruiters. After
seeing this, you may rank recruiters as a class below politicians you
don't like, aluminum siding salesmen, and contingency fee lawyers.
The movie runs 2:49, and I would not want a second of it edited
out. It is rated barely PG-13 for a smaller than expected amount of
profanity. I recommend it to everyone. Any kid older than 12 could
and should see it. Any kids thinking about sports as a career or as a
way to get a scholarship, should consider this movie required viewing.
Got a budding athlete? Take him or her to see this film tonight!
HOOP DREAMS is film making at its absolute best, and I award ****.
Copyright © 1994 Steve Rhodes