Reality Show Ten years ago Hoop Dreams briefly turned two childhood pals from Chicago into American idols, but a Hollywood ending has proved elusive

July 11, 2004

Tupac can be heard blaring from the gray Pontiac Grand Am long
before Arthur Agee rolls into a parking lot in Cabrini Green, the
notoriously tough Chicago neighborhood in which he grew up. As he
steers into a space, Agee peers out the window and bobs playfully
to the beat. A blue towel is draped over his head; a wide, impish
smile covers his face. "That boy a fool," says William Gates,
standing nearby and shaking his head. ¶ When Agee steps out of
the car, he's giddy. "S'up, big boy?" he shouts. ¶ "Who dat is?"
Gates replies, locking his old pal into a tight embrace before laying
on a schoolmarmish guilt trip. "Haven't heard from you,
can't find you, don't know where you are. I hear you're playing
SlamBall, I hear about the clothing line. It's all third-party
information."

"You can always call Bo, man, you know that," Agee says,
referring to his father, who lives in Berwyn, Ill., a Chicago
suburb.

It's been more than a year since Agee and Gates have spoken and
10 years since their lives were chronicled in Hoop Dreams, the
acclaimed Steve James documentary about inner-city basketball.
After it won an Audience Award at the 1994 Sundance Film
Festival, Hoop Dreams scored a major distribution deal from Fine
Line Cinema and, that October, became the first documentary to
close the prestigious New York Film Festival. By the time its
theatrical run ended in the spring of '95, Hoop Dreams was the
highest-grossing documentary in U.S. history.

Agee, 31, and Gates, 33, are still close friends, as they have
been since childhood. That bond--barely addressed in the
three-hour film, in which they appear together for about a
minute--was evident last month when they reunited for a photo
shoot to commemorate the movie's 10th anniversary. "It could be
four years since we saw each other, but when we get together,
it's like we talked yesterday," Agee says. "We've gone down
different paths, but we'll always be connected."

Gates's path brought him back to Cabrini Green, where he is the
senior pastor of a church and the director of its after-school
program for at-risk kids. He lives on Chicago's West Side with
his wife, Catherine, and their four children, Alicia, 15; William
Jr., 9; Jalon, 6; and Marques, eight months. For several years
Gates went out of his way to avoid the neighborhood, especially
after his brother Curtis was murdered near there in a 2001
carjacking. "This was not in the plan," he says of his return to
Cabrini Green.

By the end of Hoop Dreams, Gates had made it out of Cabrini
Green, landing a basketball scholarship to Marquette. After
averaging 3.7 points in three college seasons, however, he quit
the program, but not school, and in 1999 Gates, a communications
major, became the first member of his family to earn a college
degree.

After working for three years in Chicago as director of the
Community Economic Development Association, Gates was laid off.
His financial situation soon grew dire, and his young family
suffered. "We were homeless and poor," Gates says. "I went to
McDonald's, grocery stores, tried to do some pest control. I'm
thinking, I've got a degree from Marquette, I've got a movie, and
I can't find a job? Life had really changed."

Gates and Agee made nearly $200,000 apiece in royalties from Hoop
Dreams, and now Gates's share was gone. In early 2003 he
approached a Chicago church about starting a ministry in Cabrini
Green, and thus the Living Faith Community Church was born. With
his $40,000 salary, he moved his family into a new home last
January. "There's food on the table these days," he says.

While Gates long ago abandoned his quest for a basketball career,
Agee's hoop dreams died much harder. He attended Arkansas State
for 3 1/2 years before beginning an odyssey that took him to the
United States Basketball League and the International Basketball
Association but, alas, never to the NBA. His mother, Sheila, has
derided his pro quest as "time wasted," but Agee argues that
those cameos enabled him to continue cashing in on his
quasi-fame. He does concede that he could have handled his
celebrity more responsibly; much of his money, for example, has
gone toward child support for the four children he fathered out
of wedlock--Anthony, 12; Ashley, 11; Deja, 8; and Chandler, 8.

In Chicago he stays with his girlfriend, or Bo and Sheila in the
four-bedroom house he bought for them with his Hoop Dreams
royalties. He frequently visits Los Angeles, where he spent six
months this year playing SlamBall, a made-for-TV dunkfest on
trampolines. He has used his celebrity to build a network of
business associates who have assisted him in projects ranging
from the Arthur Agee Role Model Foundation, which provides
scholarships to underprivileged kids, to a clothing line. Five
years in the works, The Hoop Dreams Sportswear/Control Your
Destiny line is scheduled to roll out in August at Magic
Marketplace, the fashion industry's largest trade show.

At the end of Hoop Dreams, Gates says, "When somebody says, 'When
you get to the NBA, don't forget me.' I should say to them, 'If I
don't make it, you don't forget about me.'" Ten years later,
their NBA dreams long expired, the two old friends are a little
less visible, but no less happy. "I have no regrets," says Gates.
"Hoop Dreams was about more than basketball. It was about life.
Even now, I still have dreams. They've just changed a little
bit."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY PENNY DE LOS SANTOS LEAN ON ME Their meetings are rare these days, but the bond between Agee (left) and Gates remains strong. COLOR PHOTO: NEW LINE HOME ENTERTAINMENT (ABOVE)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)