Looking Back At Broken 'Dreams'
In one of the film's most powerful scenes, Arthur's father, Bo, wandered off the court to complete a drug deal, steps from where his son played. Viewers peer inside the Agees' darkened apartment after the electric bill could not be paid.
The maternal struggle of two women trying to keep their families together is another central theme.
You can almost smell Emma Gates's battered chicken crackle and pop in her fryer, and feel the empathy in William's mother when she says: "I really thought Curtis was going to make it, so I just wanted this one to make it. I want him to make it so bad, I don't know what I'm going to do."
And the suburban Catholic high school, plucking talented children from the playground and then playing God with their lives -- keeping one enrolled, discarding the other.
You see Sheila Agee as she extricates herself from welfare and enrolls in a nursing class. She finishes with the highest grade-point average and graduates quietly in a large room with a few other classmates. "I didn't think I could do it," she says, crying. "And people told me I wasn't going to be anything."
"You thought everybody else was crying when they saw that scene, I 'bout lost it," Arthur said. "To this day, everybody that comes up to me, asks, 'How's your Mom doing?' "
The filmmakers also captured the day when Arthur plays his father in a game of one-on-one. By then, Bo Agee's crack addiction had put the family through hell. He had spent seven months in jail for burglary. He had physically abused his wife, Sheila.
Bo got religion and asked for forgiveness, and his family took him back. But his son never forgot.
They dueled shirtless on the asphalt, in the humidity of a Chicago summer, until Arthur began taking it to his father, who at one point tried to rearrange the score to his liking. Bo was laughing. His son was not.
"Ain't no con game going on anymore, Dad," he says before he reels off a string of moves and shots to beat his father. "I'm older now."
"We called it 'The Great Santini' scene," Steve James, the director, said over lunch at a Guatemalan restaurant a few blocks from where the film was edited. "We thought it was going to be poignant -- boy plays dad before he goes off to college. And then it suddenly exploded into this thing about Arthur's anger and resentment."
After James and his partners had paid their bills, he split the profits with the families, which he estimates totaled between $175,000 and $200,000.
Arthur's family pooled their shares, and eventually moved out of the West Garfield Park housing projects and into the neighboring Chicago suburb of Berwyn, where they now reside. William estimated he received about $150,000, but concedes he "wasted some, gave a lot of money away and gave above and beyond to the church.
"I wish I would have known what a 41 percent tax bracket was back then," he said, ruefully. William married Catherine Mines, the mother of his infant daughter, Alicia, in the movie. Alicia is now 15. They had three more children -- William Jr. 9, Jalon, 6, and 7-month-old Marques -- and live in the Austin Community on Chicago's West Side.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company