Sixteen years after the award-winning documentary "Hoop Dreams" chronicled the NBA aspirations of two inner-city Chicago youths, one of them has launched a project to help others achieve their basketball ambitions.
Arthur Agee will partner with the marketing company Hoops Connection later this year to stage a nationwide tour he hopes a TV network will one day make into a reality series. In each city, Agee will attempt to give a local 18-to-25-year-old man or woman the assistance they need to attain a certain goal, whether it's earning a college scholarship, playing professionally or beginning a career in management.
"Some people need that push to get them over the edge and show them that they can live their hoop dream," Agee said by phone Wednesday. "That's what I think I can help give them."
Whereas fellow "Hoop Dreams" subject William Gates has broken away from basketball to become an ordained minister in Chicago, Agee is still banking his future on the fame he gained from the movie. He sells "Hoop Dreams" clothing and memorabilia via his website or booths at AAU tournaments. He pitches himself to public schools as a motivational speaker. And he recently appeared in "Hoop Reality," the 2007 sequel to "Hoop Dreams" that focuses on Agee's and Gates' tumultuous post-movie lives.
Although Agee admits a steady nine-to-five job would probably ease the financial pressure he still faces, he remains the same infectious dreamer that he was growing up. He still hopes to capitalize on the popularity of a movie he never guessed would resonate with so many viewers when he and his family let three fledgling filmmakers chronicle their lives on beta tape almost two decades ago.
"If you look at it, 'Hoop Dreams' was like the first reality TV show," Agee said. "Me and William's families were the first families to ever be so comfortable in front of the camera showing our dysfunctional families. We kind of feel like pioneers of this reality TV stuff, so I want to take the same integrity we had shooting that film and bring that to TV."
Viewers first meet Agee in "Hoop Dreams" as a shy 14-year-old on his way to meet ex-Detroit Pistons star Isiah Thomas at a basketball camp hosted by a prestigious Chicago Catholic school. Agee faces numerous obstacles throughout the 3 1/2-hour movie, from poverty, to crime, to parental drug use.
Agee played in college at Arkansas State but never made it to the NBA, spending a few years bouncing around basketball's minor-league circuit for teams who signed him mostly for the PR boost. His final chance came and went in 1996 when he turned down an opportunity to play in the Canadian Basketball Association to take a small role in a movie instead.
It's a tribute to Agee's character that he has remained relentlessly upbeat despite the adversity he has faced since his basketball career ended.
In 2004, tragedy sent Agee's life spinning when his father Bo was shot and killed in an alleyway behind his Chicago home. Worse yet, Agee found out afterward that Bo had opened two dozen credit cards in his name and maxed them out, leaving Agee in the unenviable position to file a police report accusing his deceased father of credit card fraud.
"I know my dad meant well, but he probably went about it in certain areas the wrong way," Agee said. "But I forgive him. I only get one dad. All I know is some of the things that he has done has laid the experience for me to know what not to do."
One of the ways that Agee has overcome the challenges in his life is by maintaining a strong friendship with Gates. Agee said that Gates' pragmatic approach to life is the perfect complement for his idealism.
"He's like my angel," Agee said. "Anytime I have any problems with any of my business endeavors, I can always call William. He's not going to tell me anything that's going to boost my ego. He keeps me grounded and he has my best interests at heart."
Agee is cautiously optimistic his latest business venture will be a success, though he admits it's too soon to know for sure. Potential interest from TV networks won't come until after filming begins in two months, but Agee said dozens of kids have sent him emails or Facebook messages expressing interest in particpating.
After reflecting on the many ups and downs he has experienced throughout his tumultuous life, Agee said this is the message he'd like others to take from his story.
"Don't be afraid to express your dreams and what you want to obtain in life to anybody," Agee said. "If you have a goal, you have to let people to know that's what you're about."