Hoop Dreams follows the lives of two inner-city Chicago kids, Arthur Green and William Gates, from the start of their high school career to their first year of college as they pursue their dream of making it in the NBA. I’ve known about this movie for a while because of Roger Ebert’s high praise by naming this his favorite movie from the 90’s ahead of Pulp Fiction and Goodfellas; and how fitting it is that the director of this film (Steve James) ended up directing a remarkable documentary, Life Itself, about the legendary film critic after his death. The film follows these kids’ personal lives as they strive to be the best while dealing with family issues. This film is nearly three hours but considering that the filmmakers had 250 hours of footage the running time doesn’t sound intimidating; if anything by the end of this inspiring movie you still want to follow the lives of these kids. I commend these brave filmmakers for having the guts to make this film and for having the intuition to follow these two kids in particular who we got to see grow into proper adults who go through the ups and downs of life. It reminded me of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood which is a fictional work, but follows the main character from childhood to his freshman year of college in the span of 12 years in real time which has never been done before; the kid he chose was perfect and wouldn’t have worked with any other kid. William Gates is a humble, rather quiet individual who is constantly pressured by his unemployed older brother who had the same dream of making it and is unhappy with his life. His journey is heartbreaking and filled with promise and sadness. Arthur Green is quite a character, a self assured and ambitious kid who makes it clear how unimportant education is to him and has a long path to success after things don’t go as planned at the start; he doesn’t perform and fails to pay tuition in the new school located in suburban Westchester that both Arthur and William were attending their freshman year of high school.
Both of these kids become superstars in their respective high schools through hard work and determination, but Arthur’s ambition is fully realized when he gets his unranked team to where they’ve never reached before and his family has a lot going on. His father who claims he could have been a pro is unemployed and dealing with drug addiction; he is not the best father figure and the camera is there to capture all the tension between Arthur and his dad. But my favorite has to be Arthur’s mother who is very honest and revealing and some of the best scenes come from her expressing concerns for her kid in the dangerous community; for both of these characters basketball is their ticket out. St Joseph High School’s coach Gene Pingatore is a tough coach and sort of a mentor to William but he doesn’t come off too great in this documentary; later in the film we also see a ton of recruiters whose jobs depend on seeking out the next big star from these underprivileged high school students. There is a random cameo from Spike Lee lecturing these kids that they only serve to win games and have no other use to White America in typical Spike Lee fashion. This movie is not exactly about basketball, it’s part sports documentary, part social commentary and a nonfictional narrative which is a completely absorbing and humbling experience; it is an exceptional movie and a must see documentary. (10/10)