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The Vault: Hoop Dreams (1994)





It’s no secret ladies and gentlemen, the films we gravitate towards and embrace forever, are the pictures that make the film going experience a personal one. Steven James’s brilliant and downright breathtaking documentary Hoop Dreams, shared with me two deeply personal matters: the city of Chicago and of course, the game of basketball.

There was a time, like I’m positive all of you who are reading have had, where I thought professional basketball was in my near future. Sure, I was quite good and stood out on my team, and most places I played. But the chances of every making it into the NBA or any professional sport are so slim you have a better chance winning that 400 million-dollar lottery.

But hell that was the beauty of being child: we dreamed big, perhaps a bit naïve, but when you’re 9 years old the sky is the limit. That’s not to say we as people don’t chase our passions – but there is a time where one must face reality and the fortunes that come along with it.

William Gates and Arthur Agee, the subjects of Hoop Dreams, are breaking the chain and planning to do something bigger and better in their lives. Director Steven James follows these two kids and their respective families for six years. With this all-access pass in these households, we witness some honest behavior and sad realities for the two, primarily poor families.

We embark on a journey; watching these two kids casually shooting hoops on the schoolyard, transpire over the years into an opportunity to play for a college team. Every second Arthur and William are on the court counts. These games and outcomes mean so much more than winning or losing, but in fact dictate the future of these two kid’s lives.

In basketball it’s all about being recognized. If you’re really good, there’s a shot you may be recruited. Arthur and William fall into this category. Their talents are beyond comparison with others they play with. So, with a hint of fortune and a whole lot of luck, the two, rather deprived kids get offered a chance to attend a largely white prep school in Chicago (St. Joes) with tuition money being decreased, as long as they play basketball (very well mind you) for the school.

It’s an understatement to say these kids had no idea what they were in for: long commutes everyday, a new snooty social environment, academics held to a certain high standard, family pressures, and of course, rigorous basketball coaching.

For me to capsule and pick point what occurs in Hoop Dreams would be an injustice to everyone involved with his masterful picture. Those who have problems with documentaries, give it a chance: these stories on screen are for more fascinating than anything you will find in Hollywood.

I was moved, in shock, and engrossed in what was unfolding in front of my eyes. Here is a documentary that is painstakingly honest with its subject matter. These are genuine families, ones with legitimate worries and fears. And we have William and Arthur’s ambitions to be in the NBA peak and falter simultaneously throughout this 6 year journey James and company invested their lives in.

Hoop Dreams is a mammoth in documentary filmmaking: one that capsulated people’s hopes, emotions, and dreams greater and more dramatic than anything I’ve ever seen. The film’s three hour run time flies by, but the impressions and thoughts Hoop Dreams left, will last me a lifetime.

You can find all my reviews at Duke & The Movies & follow me on twitter @DukeSensation

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