Dreams wades deep into the murky waters that surround basketball
recruiting from high school to college. As Spike Lee informs a group of players at a
basketball camp, they are a commodity to the recruiters and
will only be valued as long as they are useful.
To make it, in fact, a player has to be more than good
or even great. They need to be aggressive, subservient to overbearing
coaches, exceed academically, and be oblivious to life outside
of basketball. It also
helps to have a supportive family that is willing to sacrifice
money, time, and personal needs to make sure you make it.
That such devotion is a perversion of human nature, or that it coldly
leaves the less than perfect behind, is beside the point. That’s the way it is.
of the fascinating aspects of Hoop Dreams is the way
it spontaneously unfolds, the viewer never quite sure what will
happen next. The film
follows two young basketball players, Arthur and William, at
home, at school, and on the basketball court.
The filmmakers have chosen two players who may go far,
but no one can be sure. Director
Steve James expresses a certain faith, nonetheless, that an
interesting and meaningful story will develop.
This approach gives the film an open structure:
although the film stops when Arthur and William finish high
school, it could have easily followed them through college and
casual unfolding of the film also helps James achieve a great
deal of depth, building layer after layer of meaning.
Arthur attends St. Joseph’s High School on a partial
scholarship, a school that offers him a better opportunity to
develop as a ball player. Soon,
however, his family can no longer afford even partial payments
and Arthur is sent back to his neighborhood school.
The viewer, at this point, probably makes a moral judgment
about schools that toy with the lives of athletes when it is
in their interest, only to drop them when it isn’t. This state of affairs, however, becomes cloudier
due to the complications within Arthur’s family. His father leaves, and only later do we find
out that he has developed a drug habit, explaining the lack
of funds for St. Joseph’s. This comes
as a surprise because the father is well-spoken, and seems to
accurately understand the difficulty of his son’s potential
success. This layering of meanings shatters stereotypes
William’s family situation seems more stable, it is far from
uncomplicated. His father, a car dealer who has left his family,
attempts to renew his relationship with William in the wake
of his success. His older
brother, once a basketball player with potential, has taken
the role of father and advice giver upon himself.
His endless admonishments and recriminations toward William
become overbearing, but he remains sympathetic because of his
own dire plight. Basketball,
his one hope to reach beyond his immediate environment, has
left him psychologically scarred, and he now seems destined
to live out a life filled with dead-end jobs.
William, perhaps because of the pressures from those
around him, seems to continually underachieve, perhaps afraid
of risking too much, failing, and becoming a carbon copy of
Dreams lasts for three hours but it is doubtful that the viewer
will notice the length. Instead,
having developed strong ties to Arthur and William, viewers
will probably find themselves wishing they could follow both
young men into adulthood. This doesn’t mean that the viewer enjoys everything
that happens in the film. The viewer would like both men to
succeed, but their social handicaps and the cutthroat tactics
of recruiting tinge the dream with dark shadows.
Hoop Dreams is a complex film that deeply explores
the hopes and pitfalls of inner-city life, leaving the viewer
with a number of troubling questions about the future of thousands
of young men like Arthur and William.
D. Lankford, Jr.
by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
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