Much has already been written about the potent allure that pro sports has for youngsters, especially those who see it as their road to a better life. So the basic message of Hoop Dreams, which chronicles the lives and high-school careers of two Chicago-area basketball players, might seem to be old hat. But Hoop Dreams is such a comprehensive achievement and is so effective, both dramatically and as a social portrait, that we can't help but remain engrossed throughout this extraordinary work.
William Gates and Arthur Agee are both in junior high school when their skill on the court catches the attention of recruiters who want them to attend one of Chicago's premier high-school basketball powerhouses, St. Joseph's, which also happens to be the alma mater of NBA superstar Isaiah Thomas. Agee idolizes Thomas, and the coach's assurance that he will help get Agee a college scholarship If he attends St. Joseph's convinces him and his family to make the choice. Gates is even more heavily pursued, told by everyone that he is already a star and projected by many in the sports establishment to be the next Thomas.
Thus begins a four-and-a-half-year odyssey which documents the boys' separate sports careers (Arthur doesn't manage to stay at St. Joseph's very long and includes many of the familiar peaks and valleys experienced by high-school athletic prodigies. But as important as their lives on the court are, this is more than a sports doc. and the events in the boys' personal lives, the crises in their families, the pressures they feel by being among the best in their business are beautifully revealed and strikingly contrasted. This is real-life drama, and the intimacy which the filmmakers have managed to achieve allows for both subtle and dramatic turns of events. The attraction of sports, unlike real life, allows many people a taste of clear-cut triumph and failure The metaphors provided by sports are sometimes too Simple for that real world, but Hoop Dreams gives us all something to think about.
— Geoffrey Gilmore
Sundance Film Festival Awards