1-on-1 With Arthur Agee
The Hoop Dreams star hooks up with Converse and the Chicago United Hoops Classic for a good cause.
by Bryan Crawford / @_BryanCrawford
On Saturday, March 12th, Converse held its customary Open Gym session at Attack Athletics on Chicago’s West Side. Covered at SLAMonline before, the Converse Open Gym is a program held around the country that gives kids, regardless of skill, the chance to play basketball in a safe and organized environment, free of charge.
But this particular Open Gym was different as it was a precursor to another event, the Chicago United Hoops Classic which will be held on April 30th. The event will feature the premier high school basketball players from the South and West sides of the city and pit them in a game against one another.
Created in the memory of Chicago Bulls great, the late Norm Van Lier, the Chicago United Hoops Classic strives to spread a message of non-violence while rewarding students who choose to make education a top priority in their lives. All proceeds from the event will benefit both the Norm Van Lier Scholarship Fund and Purpose Over Pain.
While the Chicago United Hoops Classic will be fun, bragging rights are also on the line to see which side of the city has the best ballers.
Over the years, both have produced some incredible college and NBA players, the likes of which include legends like Tim Hardaway from the South Side and Isiah Thomas from the West Side. Current South Side representers in the League include Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and JaVale McGee (by way of Michigan). And from “out West” you have guys like Shannon Brown, Tony Allen, and Kevin Garnett (by way of South Carolina).
As far as NBA talent goes, the South Side has always had an edge over the West, but both sides still produce some amazing players year after year.
Lending a hand in this event will be Jarrett Payton, son of Chicago Bears great Walter Payton, and Arthur Agee, star of the critically acclaimed film, Hoop Dreams. Each appeared at the Converse Open Gym to talk with the kids and tell their stories and serve as inspirations to them.
I talked to Agee about what he’s been doing since the film launched him into the collective consciousness of hoop heads everywhere, and how he’s determined to give back and reach as many kids as he can, using his own life as an example.
SLAM: You haven’t really been in the spotlight as much lately, but you’ve still been doing things to make an impact in people lives, specifically kids. Talk about what you’ve been up to.
Arthur Agee: Well, I’ve got my foundation, the Arthur Agee Role Model Foundation, we started that in 1996. I’m doing a lot of workshops, I’ve developed the Hoop Dreams Curriculum and I just started an anti-bully program where I’ve got children’s books to show kids exactly how to deal with bully’s and how not to get bullied. I’ve got that program rolling out this summer. I’ve also been speaking at a lot of AAU tournaments and I’m getting reading to release my clothing line and my HD1 sneaker.
SLAM: Since starring in Hoop Dreams, how has the film changed your life and how has it made things better for you?
AA: The movie was a blessing, man. I’m very humbled for just being a part of that film and it’s changed my life because it’s given me a visibility in all neighborhoods where kids love basketball. It’s not a coach that wants to show that movie to his kids that can’t get me on the phone and get me to say some inspiring words to them and uplift them. So that being said, it’s a blessing for me to be able to do that and give back like that.
SLAM: What kinds of lessons have you learned both from basketball and in life since starring in the film?
AA: My whole motto was to live my hoop dream and control my destiny, and I think that should apply to anybody. Whether they have their own hoop dream, or if they want to be a policeman or a firefighter, if they want to get good grades in school, anything. I had a chance to live my hoop dreams and control my destiny and I try to help kids do that too.
SLAM: When your playing career ended, what made you want to take this route and try and reach out and help kids who may have come from similar circumstances as yourself?
AA: Because when I was like them, there wasn’t nobody helping me. I wasn’t the greatest basketball player to come out. AAU wasn’t around. There wasn’t an older guy who went off to college and came back to say, ‘Hey, let me hone your skills. Let me give you some fundamentals. Let me get you in the gym.’ So I’m glad Converse is doing this Open Gym for these kids so some of us older ones can come back and give them that knowledge and tell them the pitfalls to stay away from like the smoking and drinking. That can’t go with your training in basketball and trying to be on somebody’s team. So, we want to give that knowledge to these kids.
SLAM: How have you seen the game change – specifically in Chicago – from when you were coming up until now?
AA: Man, to me, basketball has fell off in Chicago because we don’t have a great cast of players that have played the game from when they were young until they got out of high school. Right now, you got kids that’s out on the corners and really not into basketball or, kids that’s not into sports at all. That’s why it’s even more of an urgency for us to get out here and show these kids the right way. To show them that sports can enhance you physically, mentally and it can help you deal with things off the court as well as in the classroom. So it’s not just about basketball, we just use that as a tool to talk to the kids to help them and develop them; break them down, deconstruct them and then reprogram them. So just having Hoop Dreams and having that tag with me, I know I can change a kids life by inspiring them.
SLAM: Is there one story or one kid that you’ve helped that’s been the most satisfying to you since you’ve been doing this? Is there any situation that stands out more than others?
AA: There was this one homeless kid that I met out in Arizona. His parents were meth addicts and both of them had OD’d and died so he had to go to a group home. I went and spoke at this group home and you could just see the hurt in his eyes and the pain in this kids face to where he just wanted somebody to listen to him so he can vent. I was that ear for him. I didn’t give him any Hoop Dreams paraphernalia or anything because he just inspired me with how he felt and how he spoke from his heart. And me listening to him inspired him to come out of his shell a little bit more. That’s one of those stories that motivates me to just keep doing what I’m doing.
SLAM: Do you still watch the Hoop Dreams?
AA: Oh yeah, I watch it all the time with the kids and with the people who bring me in to speak. I definitely put the movie in and watch it with them and show them certain things like the mistakes that I’d made going through the film so that they’ll understand. And they look at me now at 38-years-old and see that you can change and learn and grow from your mistakes.
SLAM: Well, I have to say that Hoop Dreams is my favorite basketball documentary and one of the realest films I’ve ever seen. I just want to thank you for taking time to talk to me today.
AA: Yes sir, thank you for talking to me. SLAM for life!