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Still dreaming

Agee's life hasn't been glamorous since Hoop Dreams

Posted: Tuesday August 29, 2006 1:10PM; Updated: Wednesday August 30, 2006 2:15AM
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Arthur Agee starred in 'Hoop Dreams' before his playing days at Arkansas State. He's still trying to capitalize on his movie fame.
Arthur Agee starred in 'Hoop Dreams' before his playing days at Arkansas State. He's still trying to capitalize on his movie fame.
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If you've seen the 1994 documentary classic Hoop Dreams -- and if you haven't, I insist you buy or rent it immediately -- then you no doubt remember the gripping scene in which one of the film's teenage protagonists, Arthur Agee, takes on his father in a game of one-on-one with the whole family watching. The moment was straight out of The Great Santini: some smack-talking, an argument over the score and, finally, the son stroking a jumper on game point, leaving the onlookers cheering and the father muttering in disgust.

The scene was all the more compelling because Agee's dad, Arthur Sr., had been absent from his son's life the previous year while he fought drug addiction and endured a stint in prison. If there's one scene in the movie more indelible than the one-on-one game, it is an earlier sequence in which Arthur Sr., a.k.a. "Bo," shows up on a playground, says a quick hello to his son, then walks to the other end of the park to buy drugs -- in full view of Arthur Jr., his friends and the omnipresent camera. By the end of the movie Bo Agee had re-entered his family's life, sworn off drugs and become a pastor, but the audience is left wondering whether a relapse is just around the corner.

It wasn't. Two years ago I visited Bo Agee's home in Berwyn, Ill., to interview him for a story I was writing on the two Hoop Dreams stars for Sports Illustrated's Where Are They Now? issue. Not only had Bo apparently stayed clean and sober, but it was also obvious he was the bedrock of his family. Some of his grandchildren lived in Bo's house, and I remember Bo calling after them for most of the afternoon and coaxing the youngest to take some medicine.

Alas the story, which seemed to hold such promise, would end in tragedy. In December 2004, Bo Agee was shot and killed in the garage located behind the house I had visited, just a few feet from the barbecue grill where he had cooked us dinner. Arthur Jr. has spent the months since trying to pick up the pieces of his father's life while providing for his own family, which includes four children born out of wedlock to different mothers.

The rebuilding process had been made even more difficult by the revelation that Bo's death might not have been the result of some random robbery but rather a paid hit. Berwyn police have charged a Chicago man for allegedly accepting money to kill Bo Agee. The suspect remains in custody and is awaiting trial. The way Arthur sees it, Bo, who had been earning extra money through a wholesale clothing business he was running out of his garage, apparently crossed the wrong person during some kind of dispute years ago and paid the ultimate price.

"My dad turned his life over and became a pastor, but he was still human," Arthur Jr. says. "He still had things in his life that weren't right. A man's past can really catch up with him."