How do you understand the significance of Lithuania’s 1992 Bronze medal winning Olympic basketball team? By viewing the history of the Cold War’s impact on the region, for starters, and the love of basketball the former Soviet Bloc country has. That’s how Marius A. Markevicius has taken to begin his look at that fairly legendary basketball team: by looking at the history of the area through the lens of those who lived it.
That 1992 Olympic Basketball team was special because it contained the four best players from the last great Soviet Union team, which beat John Thompson and the last team of amateurs who comprised U.S Basketball’s Olympic presence. The 1992 Olympics was the year of the original “Dream Team” and U.S Basketball running the rest of the world off the court in Seoul, South Korea. For those who were bored by watching the greatest talent ever assembled on one team just merck the rest of the world there was Lithuania, with their tie-dye uniforms supplied by the Grateful Dead representing their country which had just recently gained its independence from the Soviet Union.
It was one of the great unsung moments of the game when they defeated the last remnants of the old Soviet Union Olympic sports dynasty, recognized as the Commonwealth of Independent States, to take home the Bronze. Standing on the podium in their tie-dye, recognized for their play, it was one of those goofy but touching moments at the time. Twenty years later it’s a reminder of those days after the Cold War ended, and how the world seemed to be opening up.
Markevicius ends the film with this moment, of course, but getting there is a tour through relevant history of the region. Following the impact of Soviet occupation of Lithuania as a feeder to the Soviet national team, and the impact of the USSR being closed off to the west, it’s a tremendous history lesson on the Cold War from the other side. Hearing guys like Sarunas Marciulionis and Arvydas Sabonis discuss how they were unable to play in the West because of Soviet pressure, and how they had miserable lives as pro athletes, gives perspective on the Cold War and its impact on sport. Going through Lithuanian history, and how it relates to and impacted the lives of Lithuanian athletes, we get to see a side to life under the old USSR we didn’t get to see during the Cold War.
Hearing someone like Sabonis discuss how little he made at the time, and his impressions of the West when they played there, puts a lot of things we take for granted into perspective. It’s a history lesson about the Cold War presented through sport and athletes; the film takes a good amount of time before it reaches Lithuanian independence but it’s to gain perspective on why it meant so much.
Movies about sport generally tend to be riddled with clichés and formula; it’s in the documentary that we find the human connection. The Other Dream Team may not have been able to find an audience in theatres but it deserves to find one on DVD.
There’s a Q&A with the Director (Marius A. Markevicius) and a Producer (Jon Weinbach) after a screening of the film as well as an Audio Commentary with them as well. Lionsgate presents The Other Dream Team .
Directed by Marius A. Markevicius. Featuring Sarunas Marciulionis, Arvydas Sabonis, Bill Walton, Chris Mullin and Donnie Nelson. Running time: 90 minutes. Not Rated. Released: January 15, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.