The 1992 Lithuanian basketball team represented in the documentary “The Other Dream Team,”exhibited the traits normally found in an Adrenalist: bravery, competitiveness and an overwhelming pride in one’s self and statehood.
The 1992 American Dream Team is considered the greatest team ever put together in, not only Olympic, but world history. On the international stage, the team was unmatched, and their run to Olympic gold was only upstaged by their laughably large margins of victory. They weren’t the only dream team, and the “The Other Dream Team” from Lithuania wasn’t a dream for basketball fans more than it was a dream of independence and overcoming an oppressive government. That’s because Lithuania was just barely a new country at the time of their inclusion in the 1992 games.
In the late 1980’s, Russian President Gorbachev’s implementations of perestroika and glasnost facilitated social and political reform in the Soviet Union and opened up the ability for many freedom groups to gather momentum in the fight against Soviet occupation.
Many countries had fallen under Soviet control after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 and subsequent expansive power of Russia’s new dictator, Joseph Stalin after WWII. Cold War polarity with the West led to most Eastern European countries falling under Soviet control as satellite states. These countries lost their identity while they were assimilated into the Soviet work programs under the Confederation of Soviet states. One such country was Lithuania.
In 1990, Lithuania broke free of the Soviets led by the Anti-Communist and Anti-Soviet group Sajudis. On March 11, 1990, Lithuania proclaimed its renewed independence. A new Provisional Law of Government was formed with a set of by-laws to police the new nation-state, but even a weakened Soviet Union would strike back. On January 13th, 1991, Red Army forces that had remained in country during the adoption of Lithuania’s new state-hood, attacked the (ironically named) Vilinius TV Tower, killing 14 and injuring another 700. Lithuanian succession was not to be stopped even with the threat of continued violence from their former overlords, and the Lithuanian people pressed on with their newly formed country.
It’s under this backdrop filmmaker Marius Markevicius, along with screenwriter Jon Weinbach, decided to make the the new Sundance Film Festival entry, “The Other Dream Team.” It tracks the Lithuanian basketball team that barely made it to Barcelona less than two years after declaring national independence from the Soviet Union.
After declaring their independence, Lithuanians next step was money. The country was flat broke, so financing something as expensive as sending a group of players to Barcelona, Spain to represent their newly formed country in the Olympic games, wasn’t a top priority. There were citizens starving to death. The Grateful Dead, the rock band, got hooked up with the team, and ended up sponsoring the team to travel and compete in the Olympics (many viewers might remember the Lithuanian’s tie-dyed warm-up jerseys)
The Other Dream Team tracks the individual players that rose up from behind the Iron Curtain to participate in the games for their home country, Lithuania. Some of the Lithuanian players had played with the Soviet team earlier in their careers. Lithuanians, Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis had helped the 1988 Soviet squad defeat the Americans for the Gold Medal in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. This defeat was largely responsible for the loosening of Olympic amateur rules to include professionals like the NBA players that made history with the inaugural American Dream Team. But, it was the Lithuanians that realized a dream long since dormant since the Soviet’s occupation.
With a chance to play for their homeland as part of the Lithuanian Olympic basketball team, the players involved were inspired to an upset that even the implausible and fictional films of Hollywood would have trouble believing. That’s because in the medal round, the Lithuanian’s faced their old oppressors, the Russians. The real life David vs. Goliath match-up ended with a Lithuanian victory that echoed throughout Eastern Europe. The team would go on to win the bronze medal and sport their tie-dyed duds on the medal stand. The old Soviet rulers had been defeated by a Lithuanian team just as the vestiges of a the tyrannical Soviet rule were still subsiding from recent memory–most notably the deaths and injuries at the Vilinius TV Tower less than 2 years prior.
The film features interviews with NBC Olympic commentator, Jim Lampley, former NBA player Bill Walton, Arvydas Sabonis and many others from and around this historic team. See and hear footage from them as they recount a dream and a discovery that was in many ways more tremendous than the American squad of NBA all-stars. That’s because the Lithuanians were playing for their impoverished countrymen, and a victory over the Russian team meant more than any medal. It meant they were finally free of the clutches of communism, and a country all their own.
In true Adrenalist fashion, the Lithuanian basketball team explored in The Other Dream Team expressed a bravery and conviction normally reserved for the battlefield. It’s because the Lithuanians weren’t playing a simple basketball game that day, they were playing a basketball game for an entire country.