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The Other Dream Team; Lithuania Shoots Hoops (10/18)     Print Email

By Erik Peterson, European Affairs Editorial Assistant

A heart-warming documentary film, “The Other Dream Team,” on the unlikely basketball prowess of tiny Lithuania is showing in commercial theaters around the country and memorializes the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic team that got into a semi-final game against the mighty United States, playing with Michael Jordan and other superstars. Lithuanian’s “other” dream team gives new meaning to “punching above your weight."

Lithuanians like hoops as much or more as President Obama, and the tiny country of 3.5 million people has produced generations of legendary players.  In the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, where the Soviet Union took the gold medal against the U.S., four of the five starters were Lithuanians, but any recognition for Lithuania was of course smothered by the Iron Curtain dominance of the Soviets, who had occupied the country since World War II.

The movie, which has been favorably reviewed by Variety and the New York Times, tells the story of the hardships of the players under the Soviet time when KGB minders kept them on a tight leash when playing outside the Soviet Union and threatened to retaliate against their families for any deviations. Basketball, however, provided the people and players an escape from the realities of occupation.

Lithuania declared it’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, and despites a crackdown with troops and tanks, achieved independence in 1991 as the Soviet Union was collapsing.

After independence the Lithuanian Olympic committee was in disarray. Lithuanian basketball players tried to  raise money for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona,  but were coming up short until the team’s inspirational story reached an unlikely group in the U.S.--The Grateful Dead. The band funded the team and provided groovy tied dyed shirts and shorts as a bonus.

In the 1992 games in Barcelona the team lost to the U.S. “dream team” in the semis but went on to take the bronze medal by beating the Russian team 82-78.  Yes!

The documentary goes beyond basketball and shows a country proud of its hoopsters and a “dream team” that raises athletic accomplishment to an uplifting high.