It was last October, only a few subway stops from where he sat Wednesday night, when William Gates first realized he was part of something special.
Moments after “Hoop Dreams” premiered at the New York Film Festival, a spotlight shined on Gates and Arthur Agee, the two subjects of the three-hour documentary, as they stood at their seats. Ten minutes later, the often cynical New York crowd was still giving a standing ovation as Gates and Agee hugged each other in tears.
“It gave me more than chills,” Gates said.
Gates was back in New York again Wednesday night for the NIT final, a few hours after returning from Milwaukee, where his wife delivered their second child Tuesday. He had been in New York with the team Tuesday, returned to Milwaukee for the birth of his son Tuesday night and returned Wednesday afternoon, arriving an hour before tipoff.
As a rarely used substitute all season for Marquette, the stocky 6-foot Gates doubted he would play much--didn’t really want to with two hour’s sleep--when the Golden Eagles battled Virginia Tech for the NIT championship.
Indeed, he never left the bench during the Hokies’ 65-64 overtime thriller at Madison Square Garden.
Virginia Tech, which finished with a 25-10 record to Marquette’s 21-12, won after Shawn Smith made two free throws with seven-tenths of a second remaining in overtime.
Even though he didn’t play, nor had any expectations to play, Gates, the 23-year-old senior, knew he had to be here. He had to see, to its proper ending, a career that started with such promise in his Illinois high school that people said he’d be the next Isiah Thomas.
Instead, Gates has become more movie star than basketball star.
After a serious knee injury as a high school junior at St. Joseph in Westchester--well-documented in the movie--Gates was never the same player. Still, Marquette signed him, but after two mediocre seasons, Gates quit the team. At the time, he was struggling with grades and wanted to spend more time with his girlfriend, Catherine, whom he married last year, and his daughter Alicia, now 6.
He returned this season, refreshed, grades improved, wanting to give his personal hoop dream one last shot.
Wednesday night, 20 minutes after the game, Gates stepped from the locker room, dressed stylishly in a gray double-breasted suit, more the picture of a proud father than a basketball star. He had been up throughout the previous night with his wife and new son.
“I didn’t think my wife wanted me to come back (to New York),” Gates said. “But she was like, ‘You’ve got to go.’ ”
Nine years ago, Gates received similar encouragement from his mother, Emma. And the movie was made, a film that has been seen by more than 3 million viewers and has made more than $6 million.
Gates, who will graduate in December, said that all this will wear off soon. “I may not have a lot of cameras around,” he said. “But I have my son to fill that void.”