Hoop Dreams is a 1994 documentary which follows the story of two African American high school basketball players in Chicago and their dreams of becoming professional basketball players. The documentary was initially intended to be a 30 minute short produced for PBS and ended up being a 171 minute documentary edited from 250 hours of footage shot over a period of 5 years. It was premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and it left with the Audience Award for Best Documentary.
It achieved astonishingly high levels of critical and popular acclaim and grossed $11.8m in box office revenues worldwide, an incredible high figure for a long documentary feature on a topic with limited commercial appeal. The film was so successful because it managed to highlight race and class divisions in modern day America.
The two basketball players featured in the film are William Gates and Arthur Agee, both were recruited by scouts from a predominantly white high school and handed scholarships on the strength of their sporting abilities. They had to commute 90 minutes each day to school and both struggled to adapt to their new environment. Ultimately neither Gates or Agee made it to the NBA, but both were able to use their fame to build a better life for themselves and their family. Agee founded a Hoop Dreams branded clothing line, whilst Gates became a senior Pastor.
Journalist Richard Joravsky authored the book Hoop Dreams: The True Story of Hardship and Triumph, which was published in hardcover and paperback in 1996, it further explored the lives of Agee and Gates, the impact their ambitions had on their families, and brings to life some subtleties of their stories which couldn’t be transmitted in a three hour film.