Though inextricably intertwined in our minds, Agee and Gates scarcely keep in touch. The last time the two saw each other, in 1998 at a party hosted by the movie's director, Steve James, Agee asked Gates if he had any interest in helping to launch the Hoop Dreams clothing line. Gates, who is so determined to move on that he initially declined SI's interview request and didn't want to pose for a photographer, smiled and shook his head in disbelief. "Arthur," he said, "why would anyone want to buy basketball jerseys with our names on them?"
Says Agee, "I told William we have to be creative and seize the opportunities. We're just different, I guess."
They do, however, agree that fate intervened when they consented to let a team of filmmakers follow them for nearly 4� years and thrust their lives into the public domain. "You have to remember," says Gates, "when you're in middle school and live in Cabrini-Green and three guys say they want to make a movie about you, it made you feel special." Likewise, not a day goes by that Agee doesn't think about where he'd be if not for Hoop Dreams. "I've met the President, I've been to the NAACP Image Awards, I've signed an autograph for Magic Johnson, I still get noticed in airports," says Agee, who, when folks can't quite place his face, likes to say he's a golfer. "Things like this don't usually happen to guys like me."
In a wonderfully poignant scene in the movie that critic Roger Ebert called "one of the best films about American life I have ever seen," Gates tells how a friend said to him, "When you get to the NBA, don't forget about me." Without missing a beat Gates responded, "Well, if I don't make it, don't forget about me." At two vastly different coordinates, a million miles removed from the NBA, Gates and Agee are making it just fine. Funny how a low-budget documentary funded by piecemeal grants can provide a slam dunk of a Hollywood ending.