Legendary Chicago-area high school basketball coach Gene Pingatore, who had a starring role in the iconic documentary "Hoop Dreams," died Wednesday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported, citing multiple sources. He was 83.
As coach at St. Joseph High School, a private Catholic school in Westchester, west of the city, Pingatore became the winningest coach in Illinois high school history, going 1,103-383 in 50 years and, along the way, coaching future Basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas and Wooden Award winner and NBA player Evan Turner.
Thomas and Turner were among those in the basketball community who paid tribute to Pingatore.
"I always told you, you saved my life," Thomas said, in part, in a tweet early Thursday.
Rest In Peace Mr.Pingatore you loved us and taught us life lessons through #basketball #StJoseph #Family #Coach #Champions I always told you, meeting you saved my life. Profound #sadness in my #heart a deep #hurt pic.twitter.com/rzMBUeYHtE— Isiah Thomas (@IsiahThomas) June 27, 2019
"Still in shock," Turner posted on Instagram, "I truly believe(d) coach would be around for 30 more years. … We lost a legend, but his memories and spirit will live on thru everyone he’s touched over the years."
Still in shock, I truly believe coach would be around for 30 more years. He was one of the strongest people that I’ve ever known. He was one of the most caring people that I’ve ever known, also. He always told me “that you’ll never win with jerks.” He never stop teaching, coaching or demanding a standard of excellence from the young men that he coached because he wanted us to reach our potential so badly. He’s the same man that would discipline me if he saw me acting up in the hallways. The same guy that would make me sweep the floors before practice to keep my humility. The same guy that would told me at 16 told me I’d be an nba point guard one day. And also the same guy that missed out on accepting his national coach of the year award so he could come and see me get drafted back in 2010. I have countless stories I could tell about this great man but the best one I can tell and the only one that matters is that he made me feel loved at all times and I always knew I had a friend in him. Thank you Coach Gene Pingatore for shaping me into the man I am today and blessing all our lives. We lost a legend but his memories and spirit will live on thru everyone he’s touched over the years. ?? #proudcharger #stjoes
As recently as this past weekend, Pingatore was coaching at a high school basketball event that showcased Chicagoland's top players to hundreds of Division I coaches and, according to the Sun-Times, was planning to start his 51st season at the helm of the Chargers program.
Pingatore recorded his 1,000th career victory in 2017, triggering a massive celebration at St. Joseph. To mark the milestone, the school distributed bobblehead dolls of its beloved coach.
Under Pingatore, the Chargers won two state championships (1999 and 2015), advanced to the state final six times and won 13 sectionals. He coached three McDonald's All-Americans: Thomas, Daryl Thomas and Daryl Cunningham.
Yet as successful and well-known as Pingatore was in Chicago, it was as a central character in "Hoop Dreams," the critically acclaimed 1994 documentary, that made him famous nationally in his role at St. Joseph.
The nearly three-hour film followed high school athletes William Gates and Arthur Agee as they chased their dreams of being NBA players, while also dealing with the difficulties of a daily 90-minute commute from inner-city Chicago to a predominantly white school in the western suburbs and navigating, with varying success, accompanying socio-economic struggles.
"It was fun at first. You appreciated getting publicity," Pingatore told The Dissolve in an oral history of the film in 2014. "But as they got into making the movie, it became a pain in the neck. Every time you turned around there was a camera. It became an intrusion in what you’re doing."
Still, the documentary won multiple awards, and in 2007, the International Documentary Association named "Hoop Dreams" as its choice for the greatest documentary of all time.