Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Hoop Dreams. Yes, I'm 14 years behind on movies I've wanted to watch. I've known about this 1994 documentary for quite some time, and finally got around to a viewing. I took a big risk because Roger Ebert has it on his Great Movies list, and he has a post-modern approach to films. But sometimes I like his favorites.

But here is what I want to say: Hoop Dreams is an American story. Two junior high boys in the ghettos of Chicago are recruited by St. Joseph's high school, a prestigious suburban Catholic school with a history of great basketball teams. There seems to be a thesis of sorts, something of a racist idea, that basketball talent is the ticket out of the drugs and violent crime scene for young African-American men. They experience highs and lows in their high school careers. They are exploited for their talent. They make mistakes and have rotten things happen to them as well. But I ask: are all others left to rot in a destiny limited by their lack of expertise on the court?

Almost three hours later, I think the answer is a clear no, but it doesn't come just through the biographies of William Gates and Arthur Agee. Rather, their families, ostensibly the canvas for the main figures, tell stories of desperation, mistakes, and triumphs. For me the great quiet hero is Agee's mother, who loses one job, goes to night school and graduates at the top of her class as a nurse's assistant, despite an absent drug-addict and criminal husband, and trying to subsist on $268 a month through welfare. She beats any of the on-court drama with a slam dunk.

The first scenes of the film are of two 13 year olds, playing pickup basketball in the junglelands of the Chicago Cabrini Green ghetto. My heart broke. They were young and full of NBA dreams, and they did not know of the heartaches that waited for them in the years ahead. They still believed in their families, their coaches, their friends, and themselves. As the movie ended they flashed back to those opening scenes, and I think every parent would pause then and think of their own children at that age and what might lie ahead for them.

I'll leave it to you to discover how they turned out. I can reveal this: the two basketball players are constantly at risk, and I found myself wanting to categorize them according my own preconceived notions. They struggled as human beings do, they both have had tragedy come knocking at their doors in adult life, and they both have had the opportunity to turn to God.

What is it that makes Americans triumph over their circumstances to transcend to a safe and normal life? We are not doomed to live it out in the Harlems and Cabrini Greens of our childhoods, are we? Is there really opportunity to rise? Hoop Dreams is very much an American story, and I think in reading the postscripts on Arthur Agee's and Pastor William Gates' lives, I am inclined to appreciate my country to a greater degree than before I watched this film.

Proverbs 20:29: "The glory of young men is their strength, And the splendor of old men is their gray head."

Titus 2:6-8: "6 Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, 7 in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, 8 sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you."

An anonymous reader told me that I should reconsider Juno as a virtuous movie. Reason: it's one redeeming virtue is that the protagonist decides to have her baby, but there is little virtue elsewhere. I agree. Furthermore, there is not a single good male role model in the film. Again I agree. Although this may work as a warning about watching movies on trans-Atlantic flights (when I watched Juno), because I tend to rate movies higher when I'm flying... hmm... still, I think there is value in the example set by the young woman. I'll trust everyone to figure out the rest about the males who lack a sense of responsibility and leadership.