The beauty of documentaries is ingrained in its mission to document someone’s life in a certain period of time. More than a gaze, it’s a chance to know the world from a different perspective – a chance to know communities that are unreachable in the now.
Steve James’ Hoop Dreams is true to these merits. When we were introduced to its young two subjects, William Gates and Arthur Agee, it becomes an intimate invitation to be a part of their lives, even through the lens of a camera.
Gates and Agee were just recruited by a scout to join the student basketball league of St. Joseph High School in Westchester, Illinois. Driven by the American dream to join the professional team of NBA, much like popular basketball athlete Isiah Thomas, we follow them live through their respective lives on the entirety of their high school life.
Hoop Dreams was originally a 30-minute television special about the young players of the court. When James and his team (Peter Gilbert, Steve James, and Frederick Marx) got invested in the plights of Gates and Agee, they continue documenting the two for four years.
The result is over 250 hours of footage. While it would seem interesting if James had pushed to screen the film to this enormous length, the final 170-minute running time is already magnificent — like watching pieces of life moments in its hard, unfiltered truth.
Hoop Dreams isn’t just about Gates and Agee weaving through the competitive sports arena, it is also a documentation of our invisible obstacles: the prevalent battle between our race, youth, and class division. The documentary is impressive on how it subtly touch on these issues without appearing to be too pushy.
While the first half of the film is about ambition and the fleetness of youth, the latter half sees Gates, Agee, and their respective families undergo the painful realities of life. Hoop Dreams becomes a critique of one’s inevitable success or failure. Gates and Agee may have it rough, but the door is not closed.
They have entered an arena bigger than who they are, even their dreams, emotions, and who they are set to become.