This was my first time seeing Hoop Dreams and it pretty much has everything I love in a documentary. It’s reputation pretty much precedes it, but god, Hoop Dreams is fucking good.
I feel like I should start out by saying I don’t know anything about basketball and I pretty much don’t care about basketball. I was happy The Spurs won the NBA finals this year, buuuuuut other than that I really don’t think about it. It’s also a sport that I find hard to tell when someone’s good at it; I usually can’t tell the difference between an amazing shot and a regular shot, but I know that’s just because I don’t know the sport. This didn’t deter me from wanting to see Hoop Dreams because that’s what I love about documentaries: if the documentary is good, it doesn’t matter if it’s on a subject I don’t like or don’t know anything about. It just matters that it’s good.
The story follows William and Arthur, two 14 year olds (at the beginning) living in projects in Chicago. They’re both sort of basketball stars among their peers and they both get recruited by St. Joseph, a private school outside of the city. From there, the stories change almost completely. William becomes a darling of the St. Joseph basketball program, being sponsored by a wealthy family to pay for his tuition and medical bills and he’s put on the Varsity team as a freshman. Arthur is put on the freshman team and obviously has problems adjusting that comes out in his behavior (he says himself he doesn’t know how to act around so many white people, which he’s never done before). After freshman year, the school’s tuition goes up. Arthur’s mother, like I’m sure most parents would, assumed that because Arthur was in school on a scholarship, the raise in tuition would be covered. But it’s not, and halfway through the year Arthur is kicked out and has to resume high school at an inner-city school.
You would think from here, the story would be clear: William will go on to be a basketball star, or at least play in college, and Arthur would end up on the streets (his father left his family during the filming and ended up murdered years after it ended). Instead, William is injured and the constant pressure from the St. Joseph coach, who singles William out all the time for better or worse, makes him obviously disillusioned with basketball. When William gets his girlfriend pregnant and his coach tells him it’s not important enough to miss a game over, that seems to sort of be the last straw in having a desire to keep playing for St. Joseph. William never makes to the state finals, which was pretty much his dream. On the other hand, Arthur continues to do better and better on his new school’s team, and by the end of the season his senior year he’s led the team to the State finals to become the 3rd ranked high school in the state.
They both go on to college and earn degrees, but neither of them make in the NBA. You would think that would be sort of tragic, considering how much hope William and Arthur put into becoming professionals. But what’s great is that the boys grow as the film continues on and they both mature enough to realize that basketball isn’t the end all, be all of everything.
There are so many amazing and interesting thing about this documentary, but I think the most interesting thing to me is just how people are treated differently, which sounds so corny. William and Arthur are treated so differently when they get to St. Joseph, and Arthur was subsequently screwed by St. Joseph (they withheld his grades, which would prevent him from applying to college, because his parents owed $1200 in tuition they couldn’t pay, though the grades were eventually released after a payment plan was put in place). But Arthur was the real “star” in the end, his love for the game didn’t wane like William’s, and he didn’t have an injury. It’s also crazy hearing about the lives of the boys’ families, both of which are continually going through hard times, usually through no fault of their own.
Everyone needs to watch Hoop Dreams. I don’t care if you don’t like basketball, or kids, or whatever, this needs to be seen.
Documentaries really can’t get better than Hoop Dreams. I don’t really have a memory of when I first heard about this film but I watched it for the first time after graduating college. It was film I wasn’t too excited about watching by myself, the film being almost three hours, but once it starts it’s hard not to be invested. The film follows two boys who are 14 at the time as they develop through high school and go off to college as they do their best to make it to the NBA.
Watching this movie now, it’s kind of crazy how so much of William Gates’ story reminds me of high school baseball. I went to James Madison High School in Vienna, VA. I can say without hesitation that I have never experienced a worse environment than I did then, being a part of that JV baseball team. If I was able to change one thing about my life it would be that I never tried to be part of that and just stuck to town baseball. The people connected to Madison baseball are the only people in my life I would never shake their hands if I saw them today (and also probably this one kid from college). Hoop Dreams just brings back a lot of memories from that time because of what these kids go through.
This movie really needs to be watched by everyone, even people not interested in sports because if you’re against this movie because of that you really don’t get it.