Looking Back At Broken 'Dreams'
"That was my NBA dream," he said. "I never put that uniform on, but I knew I was good enough to play."
Curtis was murdered on Sept. 10, 2001, caught in an apparent love triangle. The family was later told by police that he had been kidnapped by a man who was seeing the same woman. According to police reports at the time, he had run through the rear door of a home and actually telephoned police that he had been shot in the arm.
The assailant followed the trail of blood and fired three shots with a rifle as Curtis lay on the ground. William was in so much denial, he asked to see Curtis's lifeless body at the hospital the night of the murder.
Curtis's funeral was on a Saturday and William's workout with the Bulls came the following Tuesday. He performed well, but with so many guaranteed contracts the Bulls said only that they wanted to keep him on the reserve team and promised nothing.
"Curtis was the only one who knew about my comeback," William said. "He met Michael. He told me, 'If you make it, I'm quitting my job and travel where you travel.' "
The man police charged spent 2 1/2 years in jail, but circumstantial evidence led to an acquittal.
Gates played at Marquette and graduated with a communications degree. He scored well on the LSAT exam, before deciding he did not want to go to law school. He lost his counseling job and was unemployed for much of 2002.
"I was installing bathrooms, doing odd jobs," he said. "It got so bad at one point I was trying to go to grocery stores and, like, 'I'll bag.' "
He went back to the ministry, and between the Kids' Club and his own parish, Gates now pulls in about $40,000 a year -- "Or $30,000 less than what you're supposed to for a family of six," he said, half-smiling.
Will Jr., now 9, wants to see the entire movie, but for now Gates has only shown him the first two years of his high school career, before the knee injury and disenchantment creeps in.
"I'll show him the rest when he gets into high school," he said. "Psychologically, he has this image of his dad being successful right now. If he sees the adversity now, I think that could play heavy in his perception of himself. Any time stuff start going wrong, he could think, 'Well, it's supposed to be this way.' It happened to my dad. When he starts facing a little adversity, then I can work that in, to show him that I faced it, too."
"Hoop Dreams" still brings them celebrity. An intrepid student doing a term paper on the movie -- Northeastern University actually had a "Hoop Dreams" class as part of its curriculum -- got Arthur on the phone a few weeks ago and nearly fainted. "I said, 'Dude, calm down. I'll help you out,' " Agee said. He got an A-plus.
Last week, William spoke at St. Joseph's summer basketball camp -- just like Isiah Thomas did when he and Arthur attended. One of the campers this year was Will Jr.
At the Kids' Club in Cabrini Green, Gates arrived for work recently in a steam-pressed cocoa dress shirt and matching slacks, burgundy shoes and a ring of jingling keys, larger than a high school janitor's, on his waistband. He is still the responsible kid who gave $50 of his paycheck to his family in the movie.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company