After the hoopla Four years after the celebrated documentary 'Hoop Dreams' made them famous, two Chicago men go on to the sequel: life without basketball, but not without dreams.

March 01, 1998|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN STAFF

Bounce, bounce, set, swish, bounce, bounce, bounce. Give a boy a ball and a net, and he can do this this for hours, for years, forever. The bounce bounce bounce is already drumming hypnotically through the air when William Gates arrives in the gym at Proviso West High School.

The week between Christmas and New Year's is holiday tournament time in Chicago where high school basketball burns brightly during endless gray winters. It's what football is to Texas in the fall and lacrosse to Baltimore in the spring. And the Proviso West tournament is the big one, a showcase for the best teams and the most highly touted players.

Ten years ago, William was one of the gangly manchildren in squeaky sneakers loping across the hardwood, his parents and friends shrieking in the bleachers. St. Joseph High School was down by one, there were mere seconds left in the game. A teammate passed the ball to William, who shot -- and scored. St. Joe's won the game and ultimately the tournament.

It was Dec. 28, 1987, William's 16th birthday.

The next day, he would see his picture in the newspapers subway riders were reading. College coaches started writing him, and he was just a freshman. On TV, a longtime sportswriter would announce: "I think I may have seen the next Isiah Thomas. St. Joe of Westchester has a kid named William Gates ..."

The script appeared to be written. It was like a movie.

It was a movie, but the real-life kind: a documentary.

There are two stars in "Hoop Dreams," the celebrated 1994 film: William Gates and Arthur Agee. For five years, moviemakers followed William and Arthur, through high school and into college, as they chased the dream of playing in the NBA.

It was compelling drama, better than fiction, this story of two boys living not so much parallel lives as contrapuntal ones. Linked forever by the movie, their choices and fates continue to bounce and reflect off each other today, even without the watchful eye of the filmmakers' lens.

Now in their mid-20s, the sequels to their childhoods -- and their childhood dreams -- are unfolding.

Still dreaming

With his big smile and hungry heart, Arthur at 25 seems not that far removed from the skinny 14-year-old star of the scrubby playground in his neighborhood.

He still wants it.

"If David Stern put a basketball in the middle of a room of 50 guys, I bet I get it," Arthur says, one long arm swooping for that mythic ball. "Since I was a little boy, that's my dream."

So many boys dream that dream. But for Arthur and William, the dream seemed within their grasp.

They had played against one another their entire lives, two stars of their respective elementary schools. Both grew up on the North Side of the city, William in the notorious Cabrini-Green housing project, Arthur in a nearby apartment complex. Arthur's family ultimately moved to another part of the city, and they lost track of each other until 1987, when they were invited to a tryout camp at St. Joseph's High School in suburban Westchester, and both, separately, were discovered by the "Hoop Dreams" filmmakers.

"I saw him at the St. Joe's camp. The cameras are on me, and the cameras on him, and I'm like, 'They're filming you, too?' " Arthur recalls. "Once I saw him, I thought, I'm going to this school."

They were two black kids thrown together in the largely white high school that has long plucked talent from the inner city to boost its chances of "going downstate," meaning the Illinois state championships. Almost immediately, though, their paths diverged: William made varsity as a freshman, Arthur was kept on the freshman team. William, at that point the more promising player, was provided with a sponsor who paid his tuition and gave him a summer job; Arthur, shorter and less-skilled, was unceremoniously dumped by the school his sophomore year when his family couldn't afford the tuition.

Today, that remains a what-if in their lives.

"Could William and me have gone downstate together and signed on at the same college together?" Arthur wonders.

"If he would have stayed, it would have had a greater impact on me at school," William says. "Here was someone I could relate to, someone I could ride the train with. We became best friends. Then I was out there by myself."

In one of the twists that made the movie such gripping drama, by the end of high school their fortunes seemed reversed. Arthur, freed from the pressures at St. Joe's, grows taller and blossoms as a player. In a particularly sweet victory, he hits a game-winning shot that helps send his school to the promised land -- downstate. William, in a cruel contrast that would be unbelievable if this were fiction, misses what would have been his game-winning shot and the St. Joe's season ends right there.

Both, though, received college scholarships. And both became stars -- not on the playing court, but in the movie theaters.

The buzz sounds

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