Jump Shots, Not Crack Rock in ‘Hoop Dreams’


“Either you’re slinging crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot,” rapped the Notorious B.I.G. on his 1994 debut album. Released the same year, Hoop Dreams likewise acknowledges the NBA’s grip on the imagination of inner-city youth with few readily apparent economic alternatives, following the progress of Chicago teenagers William Gates and Arthur Agee, both accepted to play basketball at a suburban Catholic school. William stays the whole four years while Arthur is forced to leave when his family can’t afford tuition—or was it his failure to meet expectations on the court? Avoiding the twin fallacies of hard determinism and unrestricted class mobility, Hoop Dreams casts a cold eye on institutional indifference—in prep basketball, as elsewhere, cash rules everything (now more than ever with NBA scouts scouring the nation’s high schools in search of the next LeBron or Amare). Not particularly self-reflexive, the vérité approach captures some poignant moments—none more so than Arthur’s stereotype-busting mother’s emotional graduation from nursing school. Her struggle to keep the family afloat is one of many subplots that drift in and out of focus over the movie’s three hours. Criterion’s new DVD features two commentary tracks (one with William and Arthur), TV clips of Hoop Dreams champions Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel discussing the film, and a 40-page booklet that includes a 2004 Washington Post follow-up article.