This past summer the basketball world celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the first “Dream Team” that won the gold medal in Barcelona and went on to redefine Olympic basketball while helping re-launch the brand of basketball into the global business it is today. While we head toward “Midnight Madness” on the college level and the opening of NBA training camps in a few weeks, the story of the “other” stars of Barcelona will be told in “The Other Dream Team,” an acclaimed documentary about the Lithuanian team that won the silver medal and began an international sensation in athletics that mirrored the country’s rise from Soviet domination just a few years before.
Several of the stars of that team went on to have solid NBA careers and set the stage for others in the years that followed, but that team and their story was embraced by the biggest names in basketball…from NBA Commissioner David Stern to the greatest names on the court who faced them, many of whom appear and have been supporting the film.
The movie will debut in theaters across the country starting September 28, with all the info and the trailer at http://otherdreamteam.thefilmarcade.com/
We caught up with director Marius Markevicius to talk about the team, the film and The Grateful Dead…
– If the breakup of the Soviet Union doesn’t happen when it did, would the story of this team been lost to just another basketball tale?
Yes, I think fate and timing had a lot to do with how this whole story played out. A lot of people think the end Communism/fall of Soviet Union happened when the Berlin Wall came down in; 89, but that is a misconception. Lithuania and the other eastern European were still subjugated and had to fight another 2 years to get their own freedom. Lithuania was the first republic of the Soviet Union to unilaterally declare its independence and thumb its nose at Moscow. Moscow pushed back, but in the end Lithuania prevailed, got its independence and then had to scramble to start not just a new Olympic Committee and sports program, but start up a whole new country and era of independence. and that’s when Sarunas Marciulionis and Sabonis starting putting the ’92 team together.
– How important was the dream team emergence in telling this story? If it was four years earlier, or even four years later, would the accomplishment have been diminished?
The formation of the U.S. “Dream Team” can actually be directly connected to Sabonis, Marciulionis, Kurtinaitis and Chomicius who formed the core of the Soviet team in 1988 that beat the United States and went on to the win the gold medal. That Olympics in 1988 was the last time the U.S. sent its college/amateur athletes. Things had been moving the direction of sending professional athletes already, but the Soviet Union’s defeat of the U.S. in Seoul certainly pushed things along. I think the U.S. was ready to send its best basketball players to the next Olympics to make a statement and thus, they put together the greatest team ever assembled ad accomplished their mission. In terms of 1992, I do think the U.S. Dream Team provided an interesting juxtaposition to the Lithuanian team. you had this group of star athletes flying in private jets, wearing slick warm-ups, paparazzi, etc. putting on a show for the world… and then you had the Lithuanian team, which was a rag-tag group of guys with beards and mustaches and mullets, wearing tie-dye shirts and just so happy to be there and be free.. Quite an amazing and unique contrast.
– Most American fans especially young ones, don’t know how good Sabonis was. If he had played his entire career in the NBA where would he be among the greatest players recognized by American fans?
Yes, he certainly would’ve been one of the greatest NBA centers of all time. Bill Walton calls the young Sabonis a 7’3″ Larry Bird.. Donnie Nelson calls him a 7’3″ Dirk Nowitzki…pretty big compliments!
– The involvement of the grateful dead in the story was very important, what made that element of the story so important in telling the story of the team and the country?
Donnie Nelson describes Jerry Garcia’s involvement in the film and he says jerry gave a speech where he said, “you guys from Lithuania are all about freedom and we’re about freedom, so we want to help you guys”.. so, in some strange and ironic way the grateful dead and Lithuanian hoops were destined to be partners. The Dead’s involvement with the team is one of my favorite parts of the film. the audience just lights up when they first see the guys come out of the locker room with the tie dye shirts.
– Despite all their success, none of these great players ever had the chance to excel in New York. Does it matter that they had their best years in places like Portland and Oakland?
Both Sabonis and Marciulionis are from a city called Kaunas in Lithuania (its Lithuania’s second biggest city, but only 300,000 people). In general it’s such a small country that cities like Portland and Oakland are huge in comparison to anything in Lithuania. Of course, they aren’t huge basketball markets in those cities, but they have some very devoted fans. Sabonis has a cult celebrity status in Portland for sure, they love him there.
– Who is the one player that you feel never got his due, or came too late in the process, to be recognized for the star he was?
I certainly think Sabonis. He came over as a 31 year old rookie who had 3 Achilles heel surgeries. Needless to say, his best years had already passed and he wasn’t very mobile. When I found all the archive footage of Sabonis in his early 20’s running the floor like a deer, blocking shots, and dunking, breaking backboards and making behind the back passes I couldn’t believe it.
– At their best, as a group, where would this team have been if they were an NBA club? A playoff team? A championship team?
I don’t think they wouldn’t been a really competitive NBA team. Beyond Sabonis and Marciulionis there probably weren’t any other NBA caliber players and the style of the int’l game is totally different. If it were a 3 point shooting contest, they would probably have won that.
-What is the one message you want people to take away from the film?
There are a lot of tough things going on around the world, civil unrest, wars, terrorism, economic downturns, etc. I really hope people can watch my film and have an uplifting and positive experience. I hope people in places like Libya or Egypt can watch my film and see that their struggle for freedom is worth it, it’s not easy but it’s worth it. Lithuania went through the same difficult times and 20 years later they’ve come so far. Hopefully that can be an inspiration and I expect we’ll see/hear stories in the upcoming years about athletes from places like Libya and Egypt that inspired their people to keep moving forward.