'The Other Dream Team': Lithuanian story is a slam dunk
A review of "The Other Dream Team," Marius A. Markevicius' documentary about the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic men's basketball team.
The San Francisco Chronicle
'The Other Dream Team,' a documentary directed by Marius A. Markevicius. 91 minutes. Not rated. Guild 45th.
From a cinematic point of view, the story of the 1992 Lithuanian men's basketball team's Olympic bronze medal was already pretty close to perfect. Athletes free from Soviet rule join forces with the Grateful Dead to fund an Olympics run — ending with a showdown against the goliath Russians.
It would have been enough for "The Other Dream Team" to simply pay tribute to the tie-dyed underdogs, but the filmmakers strive for more. Adding detailed historical context, the quirky feel-good story becomes a tragedy and a lesson. And that makes the victories resonate even more.
Director Marius A. Markevicius sets a crowd-pleasing tone — is it possible not to smile when the Dead tune "Truckin' " is played as the Berlin Wall falls? After that quick intro, we go back to 1940, when Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union. Families were torn apart, but sporting excellence was an early refuge.
Next we get mini-profiles of Lithuania's basketball prodigies, including future NBA stars Sarunas Marciulionis and Arvydas Sabonis.
"The Other Dream Team" shows the risk Marciulionis took when he made a play for the NBA, signing with the Warriors in Oakland a year before Lithuania gained its independence in 1990. And the film makes sense of Marciulionis and assistant coach Donnie Nelson's strange alliance with the Dead — a band that, for all of its hippie stereotypes, always loved sports and democracy.
Archive footage adds levity to the film. It's worth the price of admission to hear Marciulionis, with his tucked-in Grateful Dead concert T-shirt, talk about his first experience smelling marijuana smoke.
By the third act, the Lithuanians stand out in sharp contrast to the U.S. Dream Team of 1992, widely regarded as the most talented basketball team in history. When the Lithuanians players committed to a life of basketball, before the fall of the U.S.S.R., none of them expected to become wealthy. Their subsequent successes left no doubt that they did it for love of their country, and love of the game.