March Madness is well underway; by week’s end, the 2015 Final Four tournament will have its titular four teams. Kentucky is one win away from being a semifinalist and three wins away from being national champions. If Kentucky runs the proverbial table, then this March Madness will be remembered as the fulfillment of a prophecy that many a sportswriter has made, namely that Kentucky would have a season of literal perfection.
Regardless of whether the team makes history by being the eighth undefeated college basketball team and the first to win 40 games in a season, a different Final Four tournament will always stand out in my mind, for historic and personal reasons.
March Madness 1996 was a showcase for one of the best NBA Draft classes of all time. Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, and Steve Nash were drafted a few months later and had careers worthy of the Hall of Fame. Other college stars like Marcus Camby, Stephon Marbury, and Antoine Walker were solid pros, too. Tim Duncan, another all-time great who was drafted first-overall the next year, also played in this iteration of March Madness.
It was also in March 1996 that I saw Hoop Dreams for the first time; I watched it over a few broadcasts on my local PBS station. I was captivated, partly because of my youthful obsession with basketball and partly because of the story being told. I fantasized about playing in the NBA, but unlike the two young men featured in the documentary, I didn’t have the physicality, skills, and environment to have an actual (long) shot.
Hoop Dreams is a nearly three-hour documentary that follows William Gates and Arthur Agee for five years of their lives, starting with the onset of high school. The two are basketball starlets, coincidentally growing up in the place and time of Michael Jordan’s reign in the NBA. Despite coming from low-income families, William and Arthur gain acceptance to a private school once attended by hometown hero and another all-time great, Isiah Thomas.
William and Arthur want to play Division 1 and, ultimately, NBA basketball. Describing their ups and downs would do injustice to Hoop Dreams as well as to you, if you haven’t seen it, and you should see it however you can:
For my collection, I’ve ordered the Blu-Ray version that will be released at the end of this month. I finally get to watch this culturally and historically important film in digitally restored, high-def glory. The 2014-2015 Kentucky Wildcats might have four or more players who will play in the NBA, and their polarizing coach John Calipari might be going to the NBA, too (again).
William Gates and Arthur Agee have never played in the NBA, but watching Hoop Dreams to see if they achieve their shared, elusive dream is not the point.