Father Of “Hoop Dreams” Star Slain

By Hal Dardick
Updated: December 19, 2004

Arthur Agee Jr.
Arthur Agee Jr.

CHICAGO – The ride from O’Hare Airport to MacNeal Hospital was not the homecoming Arthur Agee Jr., made famous in the film documentary “Hoop Dreams,” expected Wednesday night.

He was looking forward to the holidays with his family after a two-week business trip to Los Angeles. Instead, his girlfriend met him at the baggage claim area with shocking news: His father had been seriously wounded in a robbery an hour earlier.

As they drove to the hospital in Berwyn, his younger brother Joe called him. Their father, Arthur “Bo” Agee Sr., 52, was dead.

“I’m flying to Chicago and counting the hours until I come back, and my dad is in the alley getting shot,” said Agee, whose high school basketball exploits and life in public housing were documented in “Hoop Dreams,” an acclaimed three-hour documentary released in October 1994.

“That was a long ride from the airport to the hospital,” he said.

The elder Agee, father of four and grandfather of 12, was shot once in the side in an alley several garages from his own in the 1400 block of South Clarence Avenue in Berwyn, the Cook County medical examiner’s office said. Agee’s death was ruled a homicide.

Berwyn police did not respond to requests for comment.

Ten years ago the elder Agee, who also appeared in “Hoop Dreams,” kicked a cocaine habit and later was ordained a minister.

Eight years ago, he moved from a government-subsidized West Garfield Park two-flat to the Berwyn home his son bought for his family with proceeds from “Hoop Dreams.”

As was his Wednesday night routine, Agee and his wife, Sheila, had been at Upper Room Outreach Ministry, near Washington Boulevard and Pulaski Road, where Agee was pastor. He led a prayer service, and the couple returned home, family members said.

About 8:30 p.m., Agee went to his garage, where he kept clothing, accessories and perfume that he sold to help make ends meet, the family said. They think he was confronted by at least one robber and tried to run.

Neighbors said they heard two shots, one of which apparently went through a plastic garbage can, ricocheted off a metal garage door and lodged in yet another garbage can. The other entered Agee’s side beneath his arm, his family said.

A neighbor heard shots, went outside and discovered Agee’s body, family members said. He was declared dead in MacNeal at 9:07 p.m., according to the medical examiner’s office.

Agee said his father, who typically carried “a couple of hundred dollars” to conduct his clothing business, was found with no money on him.

The movie “Hoop Dreams” tracks the lives of the younger Agee and William Gates, a Cabrini-Green resident, from 8th grade to their first year in college. Both were high school basketball stars with NBA dreams.

In the movie, the elder Agee is seen wandering off a basketball court, steps from where his son is playing, to make a drug buy.

“`Hoop Dreams’ changed him and had an impact on his life,” Agee said, noting that his father kicked the cocaine habit shortly after the movie was released. Three years later, his father became a minister.

The change, Agee added, will become apparent to buyers of a “Hoop Dreams” DVD expected to be released in April.

“They got him on tape before he died,” Agee said.

Neither Agee nor Gates made it to the NBA. Gates is a senior pastor at Living Faith Community Center in Cabrini-Green, where he works at the Kids’ Club. He’s married and has four children.

Agee, who launched a foundation, has four children. He plans to launch the “Hoop Dreams” sportswear line with a Los Angeles-based partner next year. The line’s slogan is “Control Your Destiny.”

Despite that optimism, both Gates and Agee have seen family members fall victim to violence.

On Thanksgiving morning 1994, Agee’s older half-brother, DeAntonio, who was known as “Pinky,” was gunned down at Cabrini-Green. In September 2001, Gates’ older brother, Curtis, 36, was shot to death in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood.

Though Agee had a sometimes-contentious relationship with his father, he still loved him, he said.

“It’s crazy to see him not come home now, even with his flaws and all that,” Agee said.