‘Hoop Dreams’ News Coverage Suggests a Different Kind of Impact

Popular film titles sometimes work their way into everyday language: Bucket List, Gaslight, Groundhog Day. “Hoop Dreams” is one of those film titles.

As part of my background research into Hoop Dreams, I pulled 996 articles mentioning the phrase from all the years available in the Lexis Nexis news database. About half of those stories referred to the film, but just as many did not. Among the latter, some patterns — both expected and unexpected — emerged.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the most dominant recurring pattern involves individuals and their aspirations. Most individuals — almost equally boys and girls — are athletes who seek success in sports, such as landing a scholarship, attending college, starting a new sport, or joining a team. Some individuals even abandon their sports dreams, such as one who gave up basketball to become a doctor.

These dreams know no geographical boundaries. While Chicago is the setting for the Hoop Dreams film, other dreamers live in Iowa, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. People chase their dreams across the globe to Germany, Canada, Croatia, Luxemborg, Israel, and India.

“Hoop Dreams” is a popular name for teams, camps, academies, and programs. Teams with the name play in West Virginia, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, and Pennsylvania. Camps and academies appear in Connecticut, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Australia. Programs include Hoop Dreams in Lexington, KY; ABCD Hoop Dreams in Boston; and YMCA Hoop Dreams in Hamilton, Ontario. Programs also appear in England and Australia. Do an Internet search and you’ll probably find even more than the ones listed here.

Tournaments run in Georgia and California. The Pescadero High School Hoop Dreams Tournament schedules both boys’ and girls’ teams. One tournament involved wheelchairs.

A cool program was founded by Susie Kay in Washington, D.C., to help area students attend college. Kay claimed that Arthur Agee, one of the two boys appearing in the film, reminded her of her own students. Named for the film, the Hoop Dreams Scholarship Fund started as a single-day basketball fundraiser in 1996. That first round raised $3,000. Within a few years, that tournament and other fundraising efforts expanded to $125,000. The program ended in 2009 following the economic downturn.

Very few stories mentioned the NBA at all. A couple stories connected “hoop dreams” with buying NBA teams or stadiums, and one referred to Mesho Marrow’s dream of founding a women’s basketball team in St. Louis. That dream became reality with the Missouri Arch Angels, named for the city’s iconic structure on the Mississippi River. The team plays in the Women’s Blue Chip Basketball League.

The phrase applies mostly to youth, but one 90-year-old also harbored her own hoop dream. Josephine Brager sought induction into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. She played basketball pre-World War II for the All-American Redheads and later the Dallas Hornets. The Redheads toured the country playing against men’s teams using the men’s rules — and often won. Sadly, Brager wasn’t chosen for induction.

“Hoop dreams” also means sports other than basketball. It refers to netball, which is an international cousin to U.S. basketball. Rhythm gymnasts and hoop dancers also are hoop dreamers.

One sports reference took me a little bit to puzzle out. According to one story, the Shamrock Rovers Football Club had “hoop dreams.” But why would an Irish football club have “hoop dreams?” Because one of the team’s nicknames is “Hoops.”

In Morgantown, West Virginia, a home offered a “hoop dream” of its own. In addition to the five bedrooms, five bathrooms, and home theater, the house had an indoor basketball court. The asking price was more than $1 million.

Some of the more creative mentions of “hoop dreams” have nothing to do with basketball or even sports. One gig announcement cited “Hoop Dreams,” a band, playing in Hobart, Tasmania. After a little digging, I found the band was based in Virginia and had a Cure-like sound, particularly on the track “Knife Fights.” Before signing the band, a record company contacted Kartemquin Films about the band using the name, which filmmakers Steve James and Peter Gilbert were fine with.

“Hoop dreams” also occur in fashion, in one case for earrings. The story read, “Orbs in all styles and sizes are earmarks of high style.” Hopefully, the look is better than the pun.

My favorite reference connected the film, identity, sport, and art all in one installation. Inspired by the film, Esmaa Mohamoud created an art installation called “Heavy, Heavy (Hoop Dreams).” The installation consists of 60 concrete basketballs, each weighing about 31 pounds. The “heavy” refers to the relationship between basketball and black male culture, according to Mohamoud.

Before the news started covering the film in 1994, the only mention of “hoop dreams” appeared in a 1987 story about “hoops and dreams.” Every other non-film-related story I pulled from the database appeared after the film’s release, from about 1997 forward.

A search for the phrase through an Ngram viewer offers similar findings, particularly in the phrase’s first appearances. In a search for the phrase from 1950 to 2017, the phrase first appears in 1993, grows in 1994, and peaks in 1999.

All of these findings suggest a documentary impact of a different kind: that of a name on sports, music, fashion, art, and culture.

Special thanks to Tim Horsburgh, distribution and communications director at Kartemquin Films, for suggesting the Ngram search and the other film names mentioned in this post.

‘Hoop Dreams’ Delivers Goose Bumps and a Good Story

A memorable sport documentary requires two things: goosebumps and a good story.

Hoop Dreams has both, in spades.

The story behind Hoop Dreams shows the power of long-term documentary making. The arc follows William Gates and Arthur Agee for five years, from their entry into high school through their first year of college. As high school freshmen, both boys get recruited from Chicago city schools to play basketball for St. Joseph’s High School in suburban Westchester, IL, where NBA great Isiah Thomas got his start.

Both boys experience highs and lows during these periods as they pursue their hoop dreams of getting to the state championships, of landing a college scholarship, and ultimately of getting into the NBA. Gates has full tuition support, but he still faces issues with knee injuries and academic performance. Agee has only partial sponsorship, and because of financial struggles, he ends up back in a Chicago public high school.

But their stories focus more on just their dreams of playing pro ball. Both boys face pressures and challenges at home. Gates becomes a father to a baby girl, Alicia. Agee and his family face tough issues both at home and outside it. Father “Bo” Agee takes drugs, beats his wife, steals, and serves time. Both parents lose their jobs and struggle to get another. Violence in their neighborhood finds Agree and another family member held at gunpoint.

The goosebumps come from the competitions unfolding. Both boys play on teams that reach quarter final rounds, with tough competitors coming between them and the next bracket. Sometimes, the game comes down to that last free throw or that jump shot. Will he make it? Will he miss? (Please, please, don’t miss!)

Cast as the underdogs, Agee’s team, the Marshall Commandos, takes down two very tough teams during his senior year. After one tense game, the team realizes that it needs to prevent the other team from scoring for a brief period to secure a win. That moment when Agee waits out the timer courtside is almost as exciting as waiting for that free throw.

In the end both boys, now young men, earn scholarships to colleges. Gates signs with Marquette University in Milwaukee, while Agee signs with Mineral Area College in Missouri.

As Hoop Dreams shows in its almost three-hour run, the sport itself is never the full picture. The competition, the goose bumps, is just a small, albeit exciting, part. It is the story that shows what the sport really means, the dreams it inspires, and the reality in which it plays out.