"Basketball Beyond the Floor" - Danielle de Graauw

Welcome to the first installment of "Basketball Beyond the Floor" where we'll talk about books and movies with basketball as it's main course or at least it's side dish. Originally, this segment was going to be called "Books, Movies and Basketball" but James put his flavour on it and now it has a whole new feel and life of it's own. Today, we will be discussing the book Hoop Dreams by author Ben Joravsky and later on, I will give you a movie suggestion for this weekend and the book we'll be discussing next week.

Hoop Dreams - A True Story

My mom is psychic. In high school, I remember being in the mall and seeing this really cool red hoody and thought to myself, "That needs to be in my wardrobe". Never mentioned it at home and then low and behold, it was under the Christmas tree with my name on it. The exact one. I don't know where the red hoody is now or have ever found one like it again, but the one gift that I will always remember is when she gave me Hoop Dreams in college. When I first read it, I couldn't put it down. I would literally walk up the steps to my basement apartment's front door and answer it with the book still in my hand and eyes glued to the page. It is my favourite book of all time. Let me tell you why.

I am not usually cool with books as adaptations from a movie since they usually get read after the film is viewed and you end up being disappointed. Hoop Dreams the novel, is an adaptation from a documentary of the same name. Real-life characters William Gates and Arthur Agee were followed around by cameras for nearly five years. Their lives from the playground to high school to college were documented, even the whole college recruiting process. I read the book first before seeing the movie and it really gave me an appreciation for the printed word's ability to paint a picture in your mind as if you were right there beside Gates and Agee going through it with them. I could see the 90 minute commutes to school on the subway, the long workouts and the stress of playing basketball at the level they were playing while trying to get an education at the same time. William Gates and Arthur Agee were no longer just two kids dreaming of playing in the NBA, they were examples of the lengths one will go through to follow their dreams. You really get this from the book without having seen the movie first.

Ben Joravsky is a journalist who lives in Chicago and followed this story quite closely. I'm not sure if anyone I know has a feel for what it is like to live in inner-city Chicago but Joravsky does a good job of taking us there with the printed word. The only challenge to the book is you need to get away from the fact it was a documentary first. So technically, the book will never stand on its own. In 1994, Hoop Dreams the documentary was originally intended to be a 30 minute short for PBS but it led to 5 years of filming and 250 hours of footage. Even Siskel and Ebert named Hoop Dreams the best film of 1994. According to Ebert, it was also the best film of the decade. So this is the history and weight of the story before it was ever written down and packaged for us to read.

I don't want to ruin it for you if you haven't read it yet but this is my disclaimer and the reason I tell you the week before what book we'll be discussing. Through the whole story, I am really hoping Gates and Agee make it to the NBA and realize all their dreams after all they have been through. Neither of the boys actually play professional basketball. This is the one thing the book has and the movie doesn't - the epilogue. I think what is so special about this book (and the epilogue helps you realize this) is that there is life after having hoop dreams. Both Agee and Gates enjoyed their own successes in life after their dreams of playing in the NBA never materialized. They took the money they made from the film and bought better homes. Arthur Agee created a foundation to help kids like him pursue an education while living in Chicago's inner city. William Gates is now a senior pastor at a community centre in Cabrini Green, Chicago where he works with a kids' club there. Anyone who is a fan of basketball, needs to read this book. It will help you realize what the rookies who are not the Rajon Rondos or Lebron James of the NBA, go through. Let's face it. Not all of them make it. But after reading Hoop Dreams, you wish William Gates and Arthur Agee did - even if it's just a little. Thanks Mom for giving me this book. It changed the way I look at the NBA and other professional sports - a must read.

Flick Pick of the Week

Assuming now you have read the book Hoop Dreams, you can go ahead and watch the documentary. But my flick pick of the week is "Finding Forrester" directed by Gus Van Sant. Rob Brown plays Jamal Wallace who gets invited to play basketball and go to this private high school. Sean Connery plays William Forrester, an older writer who keeps to himself and becomes Jamal's friend. Jamal's teacher will really nag at your sensibilities but their exchanges help paint the picture that basketball players are intelligent both on and off the court. One of the coolest parts about this movie happened before production even started. The producers wanted a young kid who could act alongside Sean Connery and play basketball hardcore, so they did open casting calls at various schools. They found Rob Brown and the rest is history. Next week, we will be discussing the book Sole Influence: Basketball, Corporate Greed and the Corruption of America's Youth. A great read after having Hoop Dreams under your belt, especially with the NBA draft next week. Happy reading and see you next Thursday.

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