You will be hard-pressed to find a more meaningful, emotional, powerful film about basketball than The Other Dream Team. The documentary about the 1992 Lithuanian team, which was blown out by the USA Dream Team in the Olympic semifinals in Barcelona, is the story of a basketball revolution that mirrored a literal political revolution in a small country trapped between superpowers. It will give you goosebumps, laughs and possibly a few tears.
The first service this film does for us is to illustrate, very clearly, the timeline that led to professionalized Olympic basketball as we know it today. In 1988, the USSR’s basketball team, with four Lithuanian starters, defeated a group of U.S. collegians and won the gold medal in Seoul. A sense of national embarrassment led to the formation of an NBA All-Legends team to compete in 1992 in Barcelona.
At the time, there was outrage in America that true amateurs were forced to compete against Russian “professionals”. In the film, Sarunas Marciulionis reveals that national team members made the equivalent of $100 a month.
Meanwhile, in Lithuania, the national government stood up to Soviet control, suffered invasion and atrocities, and gained independence in 1990. Players like Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis scrambled to form a national team that could qualify for Barcelona under the new national flag. With travel expenses covered by a big check from the Grateful Dead, the team was born, clad in eye popping tie-dyed shirts donated by the band.
So you see, those Lithuanians, in a sense, created our Dream Team as well as their own.
A blog post can’t plumb the depths of this film. It is beautifully shot and edited. It tells a story few of us know, and it does so in entertaining fashion. The juxtaposition of the blood and death of the Lithuanian freedom fight to the psychedelic joy of the independent team in Barcelona is an irresistible shout-out to the human soul. It affirms the old trope that sports have meaning and power that reach far beyond frivolous game-playing.
There are so many funny moments as well, from Marciulionis’ recounting of the probable contact high he got while meeting Jerry Garcia, to 7’3″ Arvydas Sabonis describing his attempts to sneak out of his KGB-controlled dormitory in the trunk of an American friend’s Cadillac.
The film has already made waves as a 2012 Sundance selection, and will begin limited theater release on September 28th. In the meantime, let the trailer whet your appetite.