Hoop Dreams

Hoop Dreams is a 1994 American documentary film directed by Steve James and produced by James, Frederick Marx, and Peter Gilbert, with Kartemquin Films. It follows the story of two African-American high school students in Chicago and their dream of becoming professional basketball players.

Hoop Dreams
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySteve James
Produced by
  • Steve James
  • Peter Gilbert
  • Frederick Marx
Written by
  • Steve James
  • Frederick Marx
Music byBen Sidran
CinematographyPeter Gilbert
Edited by
Distributed byFine Line Features
Release date
  • October 14, 1994 (1994-10-14) (United States)
Running time
170 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Box office$11.8 million

Originally intended to be a 30-minute short film produced for the Public Broadcasting Service, it eventually led to five years of filming and 250 hours of footage. It premiered at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Audience Award for Best Documentary. It was only the second documentary film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Film Editing (the first being the 1970 Oscar-winning Woodstock).[2] Despite its length (171 minutes) and unlikely commercial genre, it received high critical and popular acclaim, and grossed over $11 million worldwide. It was #1 on the Current TV special 50 Documentaries to See Before You Die.[3]


The film follows William Gates and Arthur Agee, two African-American teenagers who are recruited by a scout from St. Joseph High School in Westchester, Illinois, a predominantly white high school with an outstanding basketball program, whose alumni include NBA great Isiah Thomas.

Agee and Gates are both from poor African-American neighborhoods in Chicago, Illinois. Gates lived in Cabrini–Green while Agee and his family resided in West Garfield Park.

Taking 90-minute commutes to school, enduring long and difficult workouts and practices, and having to acclimate to a foreign social environment, Gates and Agee struggle to improve their athletic skills in a job market with heavy competition. Along the way, their families celebrate their successes and support each other during times of economic hardship caused from the school change.

The film raises a number of issues concerning race, social class, economic division, education, and values in the contemporary United States.



Seed money for Hoop Dreams came from several sources, including the National Endowment for the Arts, PBS, and PBS member station KTCA in Minnesota. Kartemquin Films of Chicago is credited as a production organization along with KTCA. The film was given as an example to defend the level of U.S. government funding of PBS, which was reduced in the following years.


The film was originally intended by filmmakers Peter Gilbert, Steve James, and Frederick Marx to be a 30-minute short, shot in three weeks, to be aired on PBS, focusing on one playground court and its young players.[4] The filmmakers followed the children back to their homes, and after nearly eight years, and with over 250 hours of raw footage, a 30-minute PBS special turned into a three-hour feature film on the lives of Gates and Agee, while grossing $7.8 million.

At one point, the electricity was turned off in the Agee home; the filmmakers continued filming and (off-camera) provided money for the lights to be turned back on.[4]

Without any money, the crew shot five days in the summer going into freshman year, seven days of freshman year and 10 days of sophomore year. Once demo reels were released, the filmmakers began to hear back positive results and gain funds. CPB funded $70,000 and KTCA gave another $60,000, MacArthur funded $250,000. With their large funds, the crew shot 40 days junior year, and shot 100 days between the summer of junior year and the end of the film.[5]


The film was universally acclaimed by critics. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave the film "Two Thumbs Up" on their show, with both critics naming Hoop Dreams the best film of 1994.[6] Ebert in his initial television review proclaimed "This is one of the best films about American life that I have ever seen", and later called it the best film of the decade [6] and "one of the great moviegoing experiences of my lifetime." [7] In 2004, The New York Times placed the film on its Best 1000 Movies Ever list.[8] The film has a 98% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes, based on 55 reviews with an average rating of 8.7/10. The website's critical consensus states, "One of the most critically acclaimed documentaries of all time, Hoop Dreams is a rich, complex, heartbreaking, and ultimately deeply rewarding film that uses high school hoops as a jumping-off point to explore issues of race, class, and education in modern America."[9]

The film was ranked #1 on the International Documentary Association's Top 25 Documentaries list, based on polling of members in 2007.[10]

Academy Awards controversy

When the film, along with the equally acclaimed Crumb a year later, was not nominated in the Best Documentary category of the Academy Awards, public outcry led to a revised nomination process in the category, led by Barbara Kopple.[4] According to an angry Ebert, reliable sources said members of the Academy's documentary nomination committee had a system in which one would wave a flashlight on screen when they gave up on the film. When a majority of the lights flashed, the film was turned off. Hoop Dreams did not even make it to 20 minutes.[11] Siskel, while also objecting to Hoop Dreams being passed by for the nomination, said that it led to more widespread media coverage of the film.[12]

The Academy's Executive Director, Bruce Davis, took the unprecedented step of asking accounting firm Price Waterhouse to turn over the complete results of the voting, in which members of the committee had rated each of the 63 eligible documentaries on a scale of zero to ten. "What I found," said Davis, "is that a small group of members gave zeros to every single film except the five they wanted to see nominated. And they gave tens to those five, which completely skewed the voting. There was one film that received more scores of ten than any other, but it was not nominated. It also got zeros from those few voters, and that was enough to push it to sixth place."[13]


In 2007, the International Documentary Association named Hoop Dreams as its selection for the all-time greatest documentary.[4]


Neither Agee nor Gates were drafted into the NBA. Nonetheless, both young men were able to turn the film's success and their subsequent fame into a better life for themselves and their families. The producers gave both Gates and Agee almost $200,000 in royalties from the film. Agee was able to buy a house with the money while Gates fell on hard times and lost it all.[14] Additionally Arthur Agee, the younger of the two basketball players, launched a foundation promoting higher education for inner-city youth and began the "Hoop Dreams" sportswear line in 2006. Gates is the senior pastor at Living Faith Community Center in Cabrini–Green, where he works at the Kids' Club.[15]

In 2001 Gates received a telephone call from Michael Jordan. Jordan was getting in shape so he could return to the NBA and play for the Washington Wizards. Initially Gates was invited to practice with Jordan, then Jordan started inviting professional NBA players to raise the level of competition and Gates stopped coming to practice. Jordan called Gates, "Will, we got your spot. I didn't give it away just because these guys showed up." Before Gates had a chance to try out for the Wizards he fractured his foot and decided to retire from basketball permanently.[16]

The families of both men have experienced losses since the release of the film. On Thanksgiving morning 1994, Agee's younger half-brother, DeAntonio, was shot to death at Cabrini-Green. In September 2001, Gates' older brother, Curtis, 36, was shot to death in the Austin neighborhood. Agee's father, Bo, was murdered in 2004.

The story of Hoop Dreams was not over even after the film was released. Cable TV channel TNT planned a remake of the story as a fictional movie for television.[17] A book based on transcripts from all of the interviews conducted was published in the spring of 1996. After the release of the film, William went to Marquette University to play basketball, while Arthur went to play at Arkansas State. However, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) advised the boys and their families they could not accept any money generated by the film without forfeiting their amateur status, which would cause them to lose their university scholarships and would make them ineligible to participate in NCAA-sanctioned intercollegiate athletic activities.[18]

An unofficial sequel not made by the original filmmakers, Hoop Reality (2007), explores what happened during the decade after Hoop Dreams. Patrick Beverley from Chicago's hardscrabble West Side appears as a struggling potential star also at John Marshall Metropolitan High School and is mentored by Agee and basketball coach Lamont Bryant. As a postscript to Hoop Reality, Beverley was picked for the 2009 NBA draft and as of 2019 is with the Los Angeles Clippers.[19][20]

In October and November 2009, a series of events were organized in Chicago to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Hoop Dreams.[21]

20th anniversary restoration

In December 2013, the Sundance Film Festival announced that Hoop Dreams would screen in the "From the Collection" program at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, 20 years after the film made its world premiere at the 1994 Festival. Filmmakers Steve James, Peter Gilbert and Frederick Marx and subjects Arthur Agee and Sheila Agee attended for the premiere of a new digital restoration that was the collaborative effort of Sundance Institute, UCLA Film & Television Archive, the Academy Film Archive and Kartemquin Films.[22]

Hoop Dreams was shot primarily on analog Beta SP videotape, so the image was cropped and transferred for its commercial release. Working from multiple elements, including standard definition video masters and a 35mm film print, the project team created a new uncropped, high-definition digital master that better represents the pictorial quality of the original videography. Digitally remastered at Modern VideoFilm with sound restoration by Audio Mechanics, this version allows future audiences to see the film as conceived by its filmmakers. Nora Gully managed the restoration project for Kartemquin with archivist Carolyn Faber, working extensively with Ross Lipman, who oversaw the restoration for UCLA.[23]

The restoration then screened at the following 2014 festivals: Full Frame, BAFICI, Dokufest, BFI London Film Festival, Twin Cities Film Festival, Indie Memphis, and DOC NYC. Special celebratory screenings were also held in Los Angeles, Seattle and Chicago.[24]

The Criterion Collection announced that on March 31, 2015, the newly restored Hoop Dreams would be released on Blu-ray for the first time.[25]

See also


  1. "HOOP DREAMS (12)". British Board of Film Classification. March 28, 1995. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
  2. 1995|Oscars.org
  3. The One Must-See Documentary?-The New York Times
  4. Harrington, Rob (April 1, 2009). "Dreams don't cost a thing". Independent Weekly. Archived from the original on April 14, 2009. Retrieved April 3, 2009.
  5. Guerrasio, Jason (January 15, 2014). "An oral history of Hoop Dreams, 20 years after its première". The Dissolve. Archived from the original on May 5, 2015. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
  6. Ebert, Roger. "Ebert's 10 Best Lists: 1967-present". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on September 8, 2006. Retrieved January 2, 2014.
  7. Ebert, Roger (October 21, 1994). "Hoop Dreams". RogerEbert.com. Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved June 16, 2015.
  8. "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made". The New York Times. April 29, 2003. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
  9. "Hoop Dreams (1994)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved April 10, 2018.
  10. White, Thomas (December 2007). "IDA's Top 25 Documentaries". Documentary.org. Retrieved January 9, 2012.
  11. Ebert, Roger (November 5, 2009). "The Great American Documentary". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on June 24, 2011. Retrieved November 29, 2010.
  12. "The Brady Bunch Movie, Just Cause, Billy Madison, Mr. Payback, 1995". Siskel and Ebert Movie Reviews. Retrieved July 28, 2019. Event occurs at 16:22-19:39.
  13. Pond, Steve (2005). The Big Show: High Times and Dirty Dealings Backstage at the Academy Awards. Faber and Faber. p. 74.
  14. Davis, Seth. "Reality Show Ten years ago Hoop Dreams briefly turned two childhood pals from Chicago into American idols, but a Hollywood ending has proved elusive". SI.com. Retrieved August 29, 2017.
  15. ""Hoop Dreams" father slain". Chicagoist. Archived from the original on December 24, 2014. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
  16. "Looking Back At Broken 'Dreams' (washingtonpost.com)". www.washingtonpost.com. Retrieved August 29, 2017.
  17. "The Directors of 'Hoop Dreams'". EW.com. November 11, 1994. Retrieved August 29, 2017.
  18. James, Caryn (October 7, 1994). "Hoop Dreams: Dreaming the Dreams, Realizing the Realities". The New York Times. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
  19. Hoop Reality (2007) on IMDb
  20. Scoop Jackson (July 2, 2009). "Documentary film 'Hoop Reality' gets dream postscript". ESPN. Retrieved April 22, 2015.
  21. "Celebrate with Us: Hoop Dreams 15th Anniversary!". Kartemquin.com. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
  22. Natasha Greeves (December 11, 2013). "2014 Sundance Film Fest Announces 20th Anniversary of New - Shadow and Act". Shadow and Act. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
  23. "Hoop Dreams". Kartemquin.com. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
  24. "Hoop Dreams". Kartemquin.com. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
  25. "Hoop Dreams". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
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