The symbols in Hoops reveal to Lonnie the depth in the modern world.
One symbol is the game of basketball. Lonnie is skilled at playing basketball. However, it is more than just a game. It is symbolic of escape. Lonnie understands that his basketball talents can help him get out of Harlem. Basketball symbolizes a way to gain fame and wealth. It also represents a way for Lonnie to have a modicum of control over his life. As he befriends his coach, Cal, Lonnie comes to realize that basketball is symbolic of life itself. Cal communicates this symbolism when he tells Lonnie that “Everybody plays the game with what they got.” Lonnie is able to learn life lessons from basketball, reflecting its symbolic purpose in Hoops.
Another symbol is Cal. Lonnie's coach symbolizes the downside of dreams. Like Lonnie, Cal possessed great skill in the game of basketball. However, Cal succumbed to negative influences like gambling and point shaving in games. Cal's disgrace and downfall is a symbol to Lonnie. Through Cal, Lonnie learns the importance of doing what is right and following the morally correct path when pursuing a dream. Cal is a symbol of what not to be.
Over time, Lonnie sees Cal as more than a "wino." He learns the dangers that the world can exert on a dream. When Cal puts Lonnie in at the end of the championship game, essentially guaranteeing his own demise, the coach's symbolism becomes most evident. He is a sacrificial figure who wants to do what is right in the hopes that Lonnie will avoid the mistakes that he could not.