Tupac can be heard blaring from the gray Pontiac Grand Am long before Arthur Agee rolls into a parking lot in Cabrini Green, the notoriously tough Chicago neighborhood in which he grew up. As he steers into a space, Agee peers out the window and bobs playfully to the beat. A blue towel is draped over his head; a wide, impish smile covers his face. "That boy a fool," says William Gates, standing nearby and shaking his head.� When Agee steps out of the car, he's giddy. "S'up, big boy?" he shouts.� "Who dat is?" Gates replies, locking his old pal into a tight embrace before laying on a schoolmarmish guilt trip. "Haven't heard from you, can't find you, don't know where you are. I hear you're playing SlamBall, I hear about the clothing line. It's all third-party information."
"You can always call Bo, man, you know that," Agee says, referring to his father, who lives in Berwyn, Ill., a Chicago suburb.
It's been more than a year since Agee and Gates have spoken and 10 years since their lives were chronicled in Hoop Dreams, the acclaimed Steve James documentary about inner-city basketball. After it won an Audience Award at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival, Hoop Dreams scored a major distribution deal from Fine Line Cinema and, that October, became the first documentary to close the prestigious New York Film Festival. By the time its theatrical run ended in the spring of '95, Hoop Dreams was the highest-grossing documentary in U.S. history.
Agee, 31, and Gates, 33, are still close friends, as they have been since childhood. That bond—barely addressed in the three-hour film, in which they appear together for about a minute—was evident last month when they reunited for a photo shoot to commemorate the movie's 10th anniversary. "It could be four years since we saw each other, but when we get together, it's like we talked yesterday," Agee says. "We've gone down different paths, but we'll always be connected."
Gates's path brought him back to Cabrini Green, where he is the senior pastor of a church and the director of its after-school program for at-risk kids. He lives on Chicago's West Side with his wife, Catherine, and their four children, Alicia, 15; William Jr., 9; Jalon, 6; and Marques, eight months. For several years Gates went out of his way to avoid the neighborhood, especially after his brother Curtis was murdered near there in a 2001 carjacking. "This was not in the plan," he says of his return to Cabrini Green.
By the end of Hoop Dreams, Gates had made it out of Cabrini Green, landing a basketball scholarship to Marquette. After averaging 3.7 points in three college seasons, however, he quit the program, but not school, and in 1999 Gates, a communications major, became the first member of his family to earn a college degree.
After working for three years in Chicago as director of the Community Economic Development Association, Gates was laid off. His financial situation soon grew dire, and his young family suffered. "We were homeless and poor," Gates says. "I went to McDonald's, grocery stores, tried to do some pest control. I'm thinking, I've got a degree from Marquette, I've got a movie, and I can't find a job? Life had really changed."
Gates and Agee made nearly $200,000 apiece in royalties from Hoop Dreams, and now Gates's share was gone. In early 2003 he approached a Chicago church about starting a ministry in Cabrini Green, and thus the Living Faith Community Church was born. With his $40,000 salary, he moved his family into a new home last January. "There's food on the table these days," he says.
While Gates long ago abandoned his quest for a basketball career, Agee's hoop dreams died much harder. He attended Arkansas State for 3� years before beginning an odyssey that took him to the United States Basketball League and the International Basketball Association but, alas, never to the NBA. His mother, Sheila, has derided his pro quest as "time wasted," but Agee argues that those cameos enabled him to continue cashing in on his quasi-fame. He does concede that he could have handled his celebrity more responsibly; much of his money, for example, has gone toward child support for the four children he fathered out of wedlock—Anthony, 12; Ashley, 11; Deja, 8; and Chandler, 8.
In Chicago he stays with his girlfriend, or Bo and Sheila in the four-bedroom house he bought for them with his Hoop Dreams royalties. He frequently visits Los Angeles, where he spent six months this year playing SlamBall, a made-for-TV dunkfest on trampolines. He has used his celebrity to build a network of business associates who have assisted him in projects ranging from the Arthur Agee Role Model Foundation, which provides scholarships to underprivileged kids, to a clothing line. Five years in the works, The Hoop Dreams Sportswear/ Control Your Destiny line is scheduled to roll out in August at Magic Marketplace, the fashion industry's largest trade show.