Hoop Dreams
Hoop realities

by Lee Jones

from Jump Cut, no. 40, March 1996, pp. 8-14
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1996, 2006

The best, most poignant representation of inner city African America is the brilliant documentary HOOP DREAMS co-directed and co-produced by Steve James, Frederick Marx, and Peter Gilbert. Seen through the prism of basketball, this documentary says much about race and differential opportunity in the United States and the role that sports, as the only viable option to a better life, plays in shaping the lives of two typical inner city young black males. This film, like no other recent production, shows how basketball becomes a sense of obligation rather than a game. In many instances, the athletic success or failure of these inner city black kids literally becomes a matter of life and death.

Despite its wide reception as a mainstream documentary, the film really provides an ethnographic portrait of inner city African American life as it relates to the game of basketball. The cinematography in HOOP DREAMS is devoid of much color and brilliance, consistent with the lives of the Agee and Gates families. Their life in the ghetto and their struggle to maintain it in an indifferent society do not warrant a glossy display. What HOOP DREAMS exposes is big-time professional sports' lure and promise and exploitation of young, inner-city black males. The film also decenters long held stereotypes about the residents who happen to live in the ghetto.[1][open notes in new window] The film contains a larger story beyond basketball glory.

Within it lie simple stories about the strength of the often fragmented families, the importance of the extended family in the African American community, the love shared at family celebrations and gatherings, the tremendous resilience in the face of too frequent setbacks, and the role that black women play in maintaining the family unit under conditions of near Third World poverty. These themes take us on a journey to the other United States, capturing real human stories that remain ignored within popular debates about inner city pathology.

HOOP DREAMS follows the fortunes of Arthur Agee and William Gates, who both live in poor black neighborhoods in Chicago. Beginning at age fourteen, both youngsters are followed via betacam for four and one-half years, through their high school years attempting to reach their "hoop dreams." What makes these two young characters so special is their unique ability to play the game they love — basketball. They have such uncanny skill that it earns them attention in sections of Chicago a social world away from them.

The film begins with a panoramic view of downtown Chicago from the angle of the projects. We see a quick glance of the surroundings that make up Arthur's and William's isolated world. The city's subway/elevated train system, affectionately known as the El, runs through their neighborhood overlooking the notorious high rise housing projects and shuffling passengers to other destinations. The neighborhood is complete with small kids playing on the street and other kids shooting basketball on fairly clean courts amid poor housing and unkempt surroundings.

We first meet William and Arthur at their respective homes sitting with their families watching the NBA All-Star game hosted by the city of Chicago. A 14 year-old William, watching with his mother, reacts joyously as his favorite players execute dynamic plays. He tells us, "Right now, I want to play in the NBA. That's all I think about." After he finishes watching the game, he goes outside to mimic the players' moves. There's no cheer from the crowd, no nets on the rims, but plenty of rust on the backboards as the film captures William in slow motion going up for a graceful slam dunk which seems quite an achievement for a 14 year-old kid.

Next we are introduced to Arthur, also 14, studying the players' graceful moves on TV with equal intensity. He says, "The first thing that I am going to do when I get to the NBA is to go see my mama and buy her a house." He has no doubt in his mind that basketball represents his future profession and his family's ticket out of the projects. Alluding to pro-athletics' glamour and media saturation, his mother, Sheila Agee, says that Arthur tells his little brother he is on NIKE's tennis show television commercials.

The film follows William, Arthur and their families on the boys' slippery journey through high school as they meet an assortment of coaches, teachers, talent scouts and pro sports celebrities who all influence what both youngsters see as a viable goal: to reach NBA's echelons. This vision of stardom has been dangled in front of the boys not only by coaches but by family as well. William's brother and Arthur's father each try to live their fantasy of reaching the NBA through their up-and-coming hoop heroes.

After both William and Arthur are accepted at the private St. Joseph's Catholic school, they make a three-hour round trip train ride every day to the suburb of Westchester to get to school. The film very poignantly shows what William and Arthur must go through on one particular winter morning walking through the snow to get to the doors of St. Joseph's. Their difficult trek shows just how hard that they must work to have a chance at their basketball dream. Once inside, Arthur recounts how different the school is from other schools he's attended, ones clearly not on par with white suburban academies like St. Joseph's. Almost immediately he becomes stricken with self-doubt: "I've never been around a lot of white people before."

Reflecting the poor education available to people like William and Arthur, both tested at a fourth or fifth grade level. A guidance counselor even told William, "You have to be one good ballplayer to get in this school with those grades." With time and encouragement, William's grades begin to improve, as does his basketball success. This begins to ease his doubts that he can't compete with other St. Joseph students. But Arthur clearly hates school. To him it's a bother, just another hurdle he has to leap on his way to the NBA.

The film stresses the differential treatment that talented young African American athletes get versus the treatment that ghetto youth do. Both William and Arthur are promised partial tuition scholarships, while a scholarship fund at the Cabrini Green housing corporation will pay the remainder of the costs. When they are in their sophomore year, the school raises tuition. Both William and Arthur must come up with additional funding to cover the increase. Arthur was the starting point guard on the freshman squad, but his skills did not develop as fast as head basketball coach, Gene Pingatore, would have liked. On the other hand, William's performance proved so good that, as a freshman, he was a starter on the varsity team, one of Illinois' top ranked teams.

William proved to be a valuable commodity, but not Arthur. Coach Pingatore himself found funding for William. Patricia Weir, president of Encyclopedia Britannica, not only paid the remainder of William's tuition but provided him with an excellent summer job. In contrast, Arthur, who did not get any funding, was "locked out" of St. Joseph's in the middle of a semester. To show this, the filmmakers employed a powerful visual metaphor: a row of lockers with padlocks securely fastened. Also, Arthur's summer job was at Pizza Hut, working with his friend Shannon for $3.25 per hour. Both Arthur and his mother know why the school didn't find him additional funding — Coach Pingatore did not consider him star material. This decision angered Arthur's parents and delivered a huge blow to Arthur's self-esteem.

Later, when William and Arthur were choosing college, obviously Arthur had not been able to take all the required courses and could not do well enough on the ACT to go to a Division 1 school. He had to settle for a junior college in southern Missouri. William went to a better college. His benefactor Patricia Weir got him a tuition-free ACT prep course, which helped him get the required 18 on his ACT and a scholarship to Marquette University.

This differential treatment makes so many African American inner city ghetto kids want to be sports stars. Doors of opportunity become opened to them that would otherwise remain closed in such a racist and classist society. They get access to things that others in their neighborhood don't. Many poor black kids would love to have William's opportunities, but without basketball stardom potential, they won't. For youth coming from families with very limited resources, a college education is usually unaffordable without a scholarship. Clearly the quickest way to get noticed by the top schools is through athletics. College athletic departments send out recruiters and scouts to scour the inner city, specifically looking for the best athletes.

Many schools have much of their African American student population in the athletic department. For instance, at a certain major university in the Pacific Northwest, 40% of the black males on campus are on the football team alone. When student enrollment figures include other black students on the basketball team and track squad, it becomes clear that more than 50% of the black males on campus are athletes on scholarship. This figure parallels that of many other universities.

Many African Americans could only dream of going to such places like Georgetown, Stanford, Michigan, Miami and other schools without the aid of an athletic scholarship. Colleges and universities do not usually scour the inner city to look future scientists, doctors, teachers, or the academically gifted. Athletically talented, inner-city black male teenagers are a commodity. Kids like Arthur and William become reduced to mere "black bucks" by white and black coaches, who measure the boys' value only by how well they can shoot a basketball, run the courts, or play defense. Since only athletic scholarships are offered in abundance to inner city kids by major universities, cultivating athletic prowess becomes the means to an end for many who have no other hopes of going to college.

In The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams, Darcy Frey depicts a rising young New York City basketball player, Corey Johnson, who has interests other than basketball.[2] He is a gifted poet and talented in other areas, but his grades don't reflect that. Frey generalizes:

"Black inner city kids are always accused of doing nothing but throwing a ball through a hoop. At least that's what a lot of white suburbanites assume they're doing. The along comes someone like Corey, who takes pleasure in a million other things. In Coney Island, however, you deviate from the one and only path to college at extreme personal risk — scholarships for athletes being significantly easier to come by than those for underachievers or ghetto poets."(196-97)

Recruited as athletes first and students second, some do take advantage of this opportunity to earn a degree. Some go on to a professional sports career. Although not be ideal, often the only way a poor youngster will attend a university, given the paltry education s/he receives and cutbacks in educational loans and grants, is through a college athletic scholarship. William and Arthur know this.

After the tuition dilemma, Arthur and William begin their distinct but equally stony paths toward the hoped — for goal of NBA glory. William, courtesy of his "benefactor," remains at St. Joseph's. Arthur develops his skills at Marshall, a public high school. As the film progresses, we see that basketball remains an obsession for Arthur, but for William it becomes a job. Later William says he doesn't find basketball fun anymore. He goes on to criticize the system of amateur athletics that steals the joy of basketball from him.

Why did William and Arthur pin so much hope on making it to the NBA in the first place? Why would they consider that option more attainable than becoming a doctor, lawyer, or computer programmer? A limited number of opportunities — real and perceived — are available to the poor. William and Arthur form part of the so-called "underclass," a term first coined by Charles Murray in 1984 in Losing Ground and then made popular within social science circles by University of Chicago sociologist William J. Wilson. The people designated by this term have limited job prospects and opportunities for legitimate social advancement. In the past, poor inner city ethnics had viable and legitimate opportunities, ones which have disappeared, due largely to the mobility of capital and what is know as "deindustrialization."

In 1987 in his important and controversial The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, The Underclass and Public Policy, William J. Wilson attempted to explain the inner city's social structure. He bases his argument on research conducted in Chicago in the early to mid-1980s, the time that William Gates and Arthur Agee lived as teenagers in Chicago's poor neighborhoods. Wilson describes the rapid, post-World War II transformation of the U.S. economy to service industries. This process is widely know as deindustrialization, a term first coined by economists Barry Bluestone and Bennett Harrison.[3] Inner city residents, particularly but not exclusively blacks, have suffered disproportionately from this shift.

Wilson details the results of this shift. First, high wage, low skilled, manufacturing jobs traditionally available to those with limited education (high school diploma, GED, or slightly less) are no longer being created. These jobs have either moved overseas or to the suburbs, or eliminated altogether. Second, jobs created to replace the former are low-wage service sector jobs, which require as much if not more education than manufacturing jobs did. These jobs, although relatively plentiful, are so low-paying that workers usually remain at or near poverty wages. Third, inner city residents have had to face a general increase in unemployment. Rapid deindustrialization and the flight of capital cause a huge lack of jobs, which cannot be filled by the service sector.

The film gives a specific example of deindustrialization. Arthur Agee's father Bo previously held a good manufacturing job but was laid off. He stumbled through a number of jobs but none were permanent nor paid the wages that the factory job did. Finally, he fell into the trap of drugs in effort to salve his wounded self, damaged by what he perceived as his failure to provide for his family.

Wilson focuses on class, rather than race, as the key to understanding the plight of African Americans trapped in poverty. His analysis contrasts sharply with conservative rhetoric, which questions poor people's motivation or individual responsibility, and also contrasts with liberal rhetoric, which mostly blames racism. HOOP DREAMS shows the human struggles of two families who desperately want to get out of poverty but find limited avenues to do so. They, too, believe in hard work and self help. Witness Sheila Agee’s graduation from nurses' training and her determination to get the education needed to raise her family out of the ghetto.

One of the most poignant and heartbreaking characters in HOOP DREAMS, a prime example of a postindustrial economic casualty, is Curtis Gates, William's older brother. Curtis was a star prospect just like his younger brother William. He grabbed the headlines with his stellar play and was heavily recruited by a number of colleges. But he could not get into a Division I school because the institutions that wanted him feared he could not maintain a basic level of academic performance to remain eligible. Curtis opted for Colby Junior College in Kansas. The first thing he says in the film is,

"All my basketball dreams are gone. All my dreams are in [William] now. I want him to make it [to the NBA] so bad that I don't know what to do."

Curtis works at a number of dead-end low paying jobs, like those William J. Wilson discusses, and eventually winds up losing his job as a security guard. In a very candid interview, he says he feels like a failure. With no marketable skills, he lapses into unemployment for four months.[4] Dejected, he has lost all his self-esteem and confidence. Although he realizes that he has been used by the system, he refuses to blame that system, only himself. His story is not unique. For every ball player lucky enough to make it through the system and escape poverty through professional ball, like Isiah Thomas, there are a million Curtises. Failed by a system that discriminates and exploits, in a very tight economy he struggles to find another way out. Curtis' mother says she wished he would have at least finished college and got an education even if he didn't wind up a basketball star.

Curtis' story points to another reason why kids like Arthur and William try so hard to make it to the pros. Clearly seen in the film is how much of their family and friends' hopes are riding on their success. The boys do not just play for their own personal fortunes but for their family and friends' redemption as well. Having to play basketball not only for oneself but for one's family's future must impose an enormous amount of pressure on the young players. Not only do they face the pressure to perform well enough to play professional sports, but also not to become one of the many failures that form a constant element of an inner-city black kid's landscape. In the film we learn that Arthur's father Bo Agee was also a local hoop star with dreams of making it to the pros. Now he wants to "make it" through his son.

As failures of other young basketball stars mount, so too does the pressure felt by those who continue to try to be among the minuscule number that make it to the NBA. NBA star Charles Barkley writes in the introduction to the HOOP DREAMS companion book:

“For every David Robinson, Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing, there are countless names who will never make it. It's not bad that these kids tried, there's nothing wrong with chasing your dream. But it's sad when anyone allows themselves to be deluded by glitter and gold. There are so many guys I know who had intelligence to do almost anything, but all they thought about was basketball. And when basketball didn't work out, they had nothing to turn to.” (9)

When they do not reach the pros, which the odds portend,[5] many return to the ghetto, once again to be counted among the so-called underclass. One can only imagine the pressure carried by a teenager who is seen as "the hope of the neighborhood," as people have labeled New York City basketball
star Stephon Marhury (now a freshman guard at Georgia Tech University). It is rare that a teen has had Marbury's sucess. He has graced nearly every major newspaper in New York, is profiled at length in a popular magazine (VIBE), is profiled on television including on the international cable sports station ESPN, and is mentioned in nearly every major basketball trade magazine in the Western hemisphere. Young black athletic hopefuls feel an immense pressure to be like him, be "the big star," and so redeem the hopes of the many who were equally celebrated but failed.

Although Arthur does not mention the pressure, William does: "I always felt that Curtis shouldn't be living his dream through me." In a visually symbolic scene the filmmakers show William's returning to his grammar school gym, where he shoots baskets on the court by himself. We see him take several shots alone. The panoramic shots of the huge gym makes it look like the gym has swallowed him. The pressure that William feels playing ball seems to have made him lonely. He stated earlier in the film, "It seems like everybody is my coach," alluding to the fact that people see him as a ballplayer rather than a person. He represents his family's meal ticket. He longs to be carefree again and enjoy the sport rather than the business of basketball. During this scene he speaks of his sophomore year in high school when he was carefree and just wanted to play ball for fun rather than for a purpose.

Poverty and the desire to escape its deleterious effects are prime movitators. In one scene in the film, the Agee family has their utilities cut off. Sheila Agee is seen carrying a single lamp with no shade through a dark apartment, lighting her way so that she knows where she is walking. An extension cord comes from a neighbor willing to supply power to help them out. Arthur stays close to his mother and walks around looking bewildered. NBA riches, with an average salary of $989,000,[6] would guarantee that the family never had to repeat such humiliation. Another time, after being held up at gunpoint in his neighborhood a week before leaving for college, Arthur confesses with a look of fear and despair, "I'm ready to leave this place, Everybody is either on the streets, doin' drugs, goin' to jail, or dead." It's obvious to Arthur that the only thing he has right now is a basketball and a dream.

Sports no longer is a game. It's now a desperate means to an end. It is seen as the only opportunity to get out of the ghetto. Darcy Frey writes about the conversation he overheard between two coaches at a famous basketball camp while sizing up a white, suburban high school basketball player's skill. Frey writes:

“They conclude that he was “not hungry enough” to compete in college against black players from the ghetto.”(68)

The connotation here is that black ghetto youth appear "hungrier." That's because they have made basketball into more than a game. It truly confronts many of them as their "last shot."

African American youth from more affluent areas or living in families not so desperately poor tend to place less emphasis on athletics as a ticket to a better life. They may dream about a professional sports career. A number of players in the NBA have come from largely middle class backgrounds. But they tend to place more or as much energy in their studies. This may occur for various reasons, perhaps access to better schools, an educated parent or close relative, or the knowledge that they don't have to play sports to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

Take, for example, Tshaka Shipp, an African American, New York City high school basketball star chronicled in Darcy Frey's book. Shipp and his family live in a stable working-class neighborhood in Jamaica, Queens. His sister has a degree in social work and his widowed mother has a job as a secretary at a local college. Shipp often voices his concern for his safety when he ventures into the Coney Island projects to play ball with his friends, who live there trapped in highrise projects. Shipp doesn't have to depend on basketball as his ticket out of the ghetto. He often proclaims that he is "[using] basketball to further my education."

However, since the post-industrial shift in the U.S. economy, many of those with higher education have not gotten the same return on their educational investment as college graduates previously enjoyed. In fact, for African American males with an education equal to whites, the income disparity between the two groups has actually widened since 1970.[7] Hence, education does not necessarily mean economic success. This may be why many middle-class black kids now also view pro athletics as a viable option. But with a difference — these middle class kids, like Grant Hill, tend to place an equal emphasis on education.

Unskilled labor now spells almost certain longterm unemployment or low wages. Compounding this problem is the poor education that often characterizes the inner city. Poor schools cheat inner city youth of acquiring the basic skills they need to go on to college and compete. Our economy is expanding in terms of profits but shrinking in labor force size while driving wages down. To African American males, the notion of getting a job at a livable wage or of going to college often seems a distant dream. What is more tangible, and a clear alternative to illegal activities, is often sports and entertainment. That's why black youth may spend many more hours on the court or on the field rather than in the library studying.

Athletes in the United States are worshipped and held up as role models, heroes and sometimes spokespeople for social causes. In Black America, young people's worship of athletes is even more pronounced. Many young African Americans hold Michael Jordan, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Deion Sanders in more reverence than perhaps their own parents. In HOOP DREAMS, when we see William and Arthur an NBA All-Star game, whenever their hero, Isiah Thomas, makes a play, they along with their families react with bursts of joy and laughter. Throughout William's career at St. Joseph's, the image of Isiah Thomas is constantly dangled in front of him by his coach and other parties. Arthur even goes as far as to adopt Thomas' nickname, Tuss, and write it on the back of his basketball shoes.

Why is it that William and Arthur and many inner city blacks like then hold such reverence for athletes and athletics? In the past, African Americans held professionals such as preachers, teachers, doctors, and others in esteem, above that of the athlete. A number of factors have contributed to this twist. First, after the 1960s Civil Rights struggle, many blacks perceived that roughly 15-year stretch of activism as more a less a failure since it did not end the problem of racism and inequality. As a result many African Americans were solidified in their belief that racism and inequality are a permanent condition, and they were also left with an acute distrust of black leaders. Included in the indictment of black leadership were black ministers, since the Civil Rights struggle was waged largely under the leadership of black ministers, most notably Dr. Martin Luther King.

When after the Civil Rights struggle was for all intents over, a number of blacks were left feeling that the goal of integration and legislation — a key theme of the Civil Rights leadership — was unwise. (The cry for Black Power, with its call for black self-determination and self-segregation has been quite popular among those who did not reap the benefits from the Civil Rights struggle.) Institutions that played a role in the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950s, 60s and 70s are now often marginalized in the black community, including the black church, which is frequently ignored by the post-Civil Rights generation.

Second, since the 1960s the black middle class has moved in great numbers to more affluent neighborhoods. The people left behind in the inner city have felt a sense of abandonment and labeled those who left as "sell outs." From the perspective of the ghetto, middle class blacks in suburbs are often seen as tools of the white establishment, used to legitimate the system of oppression against African Americans by giving the appearance of a fair and meritorious society. The image of the black middle class has been dangled over the black poor by both conservatives and liberals, who use the success of the black middle class to blame poor blacks for their situation. This has led many ghetto residents to ridicule the black middle class. Thus, many youngsters who aspire to that move into the middle class by striving for academic excellence are labeled as "acting white" by other blacks. The only acceptable forms of advancement seemingly come through sports, entertainment, and illegal activities.

The move by the black middle class to the suburbs is also important because not only did these people take knowledge and economic resources with them, they also no longer could serve as role models for the youngsters still trapped in poverty. No longer were the doctors, lawyers, educators, and other professionals living in the same neighborhood with the poor. What has been left in the inner city to function as role models are those who are in the working class and the so-called underclass, complete with those who engage in illegal activities. It is difficult to find adequate models of success in the ghetto.

Third, this shift from reverence of community leaders to entertainment and sports stars came about because of media saturation of athletes. Role models now come from the athletes and entertainers paraded daily on TV. And black-owned media companies do little to counter this trend. As far back as the days of slavery, African Americans who were talented held a special place with the slave master. The slave who could sing, dance, play instruments, or tell jokes was a much-valued commodity on the plantation. This is still true today as poor inner city black kids see who gets the glory and fame in this society. It's the ballplayer and the entertainer, not the doctor, scientist, or teacher. As a result, what has developed is a glossy myth of deliverance through sports — in the case of HOOP DREAMS, specifically basketball.

A number of other reasons explain why African Americans are so infatuated with the game of basketball. Undoubtedly much of the infatuation comes in large part from U.S. society's preoccupation with sports. With the possible exception of ancient Greece, at no other time in history have athletes been rewarded and held in higher esteem than intellectuals and educators. Only in late capitalist culture would we see Michael Jordan's return to the game of basketball take frontpage precedent over any other national news. Only in a society such as ours would a state or city pay a sports association — Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, and the National Football League — millions of taxpayer dollars to locate a team there or build a new stadium, while cuts in social welfare and education are routinely performed and applauded. Indeed, African Americans' love affair with the game of basketball is in part a symptom of the larger disease that permeates the United States.

In contrast, our neighbor Canada holds a very different perspective on sports. Sports is not worshipped in that culture like it is here. As a result, young athletes there view sports as a form of recreation rather than as a prospect for a future profession. This may be because there are few professional teams in Canada. For many poor Canadian youngsters of color, the game of basketball does not take on as much importance as it does here. Halifax West High School basketball coach Mark Parker compares Canadian and U.S. attitudes toward basketball in this way:

"People don't understand, basketball in Canada is still a game. In the States, it can be a test of you being a man. It can be a test of you trying to be somebody. You don't understand that till you go down there and actually see it. In schools in the States it's basketball or nothing. Up here, it's not that. The thing is education. In the long run, I think it's good for the kids, because you want to get them to get something out of it, as opposed to just playing basketball. They've got to understand that they're only so many teams, only so many players."[8]

Although it's true that we glorify athletes within our culture, when social theorists attempt to chronicle basketball's appeal to inner city youngsters, they often overlook the factor of low equipment costs. With basketball, compared to baseball, football, hockey, etc., all one needs is a ball and court and no other equipment or players. In other sports one needs a ball, a sizable grassy area — a rarity in many "asphalt jungles" — and other players. Even in the poorest neighborhood, often the only sturdy structure in the whole community is the basketball goal. The area in which Arthur and William live testifies to this. Despite the dilapidated housing, the broken windows and the hollowed out buildings, there in the midst of despair sits a basketball court. And in the poorest neighborhood, often the only place that offers the kids a chance to escape, at least mentally, remains the basketball courts.

At one point in HOOP DREAMS, William, his girlfriend and their daughter are sitting at a table discussing why William had to play basketball rather than be with the mother when their daughter was born. William explains, "Basketball is my ticket out of the ghetto. It's the only way that I am ever going to go to college." His girlfriend replies, "Well, I'm going to college, and I don't play basketball."

This moment in the film, not expanded on, speaks to the different ways that black males and females value sports. William sees sports as a viable profession that will allow him to support his family and move them out of the ghetto. In contrast, his lover sees a college education as the path to that goal Education has traditionally allowed black women into white collar jobs. Indeed, research shows that the return on education for African American women is second only to that for white men. And if black females had the same characteristics as white males, they would get the highest return on money paid for education than anyone in this society.[9] Furthermore, men have more opportunities than women to enter pro sports. Male athletes tend to participate in revenue-earning sports while female athletes remain largely confined to non-revenue-producing events. Several different leagues pay male athletes to play, but very few league options exist for women outside of tennis and golf. Therefore, black women view education more seriously than their male counterparts. This may he one reason why more African American women go to college or enter the professions than do African American males.

Several other stories embedded in HOOP DREAMS speak to the exploitation of athletes, particularly black athletes. The film shows William going to the famed NIKE basketball camp held each year in Indianapolis, an event known in some circles as the "meat market" or the "slave auction." Here the 120 best players, most of them from the inner city, attend what is officially known as the ABCD (Academic Betterment and Career Development) Camp. According to NIKE, it serves primarily as an academic camp and secondarily as a basketball camp. This is hard to believe.

Only 120 male high-school basketball players receive invitations, and they are lavished with free tennis shoes, sports wear, meals, and accommodations and the chance to play in front of the best Division 1 college coaches. They get the opportunity to show the coaches their skills in person. As if at a slave auction, the coaches sit in the stands and take notes on which "thoroughbreds" they want to bring to their college. And this camp intensifies the mirage of stardom. The film shows such personalities as ESPN commentator Dick Vitale and filmmaker Spike Lee speaking to an overwhelmingly black audience. Also in the film, we briefly see such future college and NBA stars such as Juwon Howard and Jalen Rose. The documentary clearly shows us how basketball is more than a game. It is a business, which William later discovers.

This circus-like atmosphere pushes William to ponder his future in basketball. At the end of the film he says he's not so enthusiastic about trying to reach the NBA and feels he'd be equally happy if he didn't have basketball in his life. But Arthur, who didn't endure the same regimen as William, still clings to his dream of NBA stardom. He clings so tightly that he accepts a scholarship offer to a small junior college with only seven black people in the entire school (six are his teammates) with the hope that he can then later transfer after two years to a Division 1 college. We find out later that this does not quite happen.

Beyond the glare of the basketball lights lies a human story in HOOP DREAMS. It tells of struggle, triumph, defeat and courage in the face of adversities that threaten to lock the youths and their families in a world of despair. Indeed, perhaps no other film has shown the incredible strength of black families, especially of black women. Both mothers displayed incredible resiliency in the face of so many setbacks. At no point do we see the so-called "ghetto welfare queen" or "drug crazed, irresponsible mother." What we witness are the key roles that African American women have always played in black families' survival.

HOOP DREAMS says much about Black American life in particular, and U.S. society in general. Demonstrating the impact of class, race, differential opportunities, and gender are just as essential to this film as the game of basketball itself. The documentary allows the viewer to learn more about the human sacrifices made by those who run up and down our courts and fields trying to live their dreams amid a nightmare.


1. See directors' comments on Fine Line Home Page, HOOP DREAMS, World Wide Web, http:// www.2interpath.net/fineline/hdsynop.htm

2. Darcy Frey, The Last Shot (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1994)

3. Barry Bluestone and Bennett Harrison, The Deindustrialization of America (New York: Basic Books, 1982)

4. According to the companion book, HOOP DREAMS (Atlanta: Turner Publishing, 1995), Curtis is unemployed for more than six months.

5. I estimated the odds to be .00128%. The odds are much higher in other professions.

6. Bureau of the Census, Selected Spectator Sports, The Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1993, Table 410.

7. See Martin Carnoy's Faded Dream: The Politics and Economics of Race (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

8. Paul Rubenstein, HOOP DREAMS in Halifax, World Wide Web, http://www.ukings.ns.ca/docs/whatsnew/ hoop.html

9. See Patricia A. Gwartney-Gibbs and Patricia A. Taylor, "Black Women Workers' Earnings Progress in Three Industrial Sectors," Sage: A Scholarly Journal of Black Women 3:1 (Spring 1986), pp. 20-25.