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EEC: Documentary Studies

We revisit “Hoop Dreams” — from both sides of the camera

The Econ Extra Credit Team Mar 11, 2021
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This week David Brancaccio spoke with both “Hoop Dreams” director Steve James and one of the athletes featured in the film, William Gates, about the elusiveness of the dream of becoming a professional basketball player. 

The film gave us a reality check — several, actually — laying bare the physical, emotional and economic obstacles facing talented young athletes. And it provided a window into the sports business pipeline, where professional success is extremely rare. 

“For the great majority of people in these communities, the hurdles are so huge that it makes it hard to succeed,” James said. There are other opportunities that can come with pursuit of a sport, he added: “Be it get to college, get a scholarship or a partial scholarship or even to be inspired to go to a non-scholarship situation and just play ball but get an education.”

William Gates told Brancaccio that sports “propelled” him to where he is now, working as a pastor and coach in Texas, largely because his basketball talent got him into college. “The education that I received allowed me to walk through many, many doors,” he said. 

Even then, Gates has become an advocate for providing more financial support to student athletes, particularly given just how much money Division I athletics and team sponsorships bring to schools. Many student-athletes’ families struggle financially, he said: “There’s a lot of athletes still out there trying to figure out just the day-to-day necessities.”

You can listen to the full interviews with William Gates here and with “Hoop Dreams” director Steve James here.

Don’t forget: We want to hear from you! Email us your thoughts and reactions to “Hoop Dreams” at Later this month, we’ll feature some of your responses.

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