Review: The Other Dream Team

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The Other Dream Team

Any American who follows the Olympics will recall that the 1992 US men's Olympic basketball team was known as The Dream Team, but the bronze medal-winning Lithuanian team the Americans defeated is the focus of the documentary The Other Dream Team. Their journey to the Olympics was not an easy one, embroiled with politics and oppression existing for over 50 years, although it helped resolve the America misperception that all Soviets are Russian.

Lithuania was one of three ex-Soviet republics to compete individually in 1992, and their team beat the Unified Team in Barcelona. The significance of their triumph was extensive --at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, four of the five starters for the USSR basketball team were Lithuianian, defeating the US team to win the gold medal. USSR team members Sarunas Marciulionis and Arvydas Sabonis were the poster boys for the Russian sports program, and were threatened should they not stick to the script put forth by the Communist propaganda machine.

Their win symbolized a victory over the oppressors they'd been brutalized by since 1940, and helped establish Lithuania's national identity. The team proudly took the podium in their tie-dye warmups in appreciation of the Grateful Dead, with whom the team had a unique and critical connection.

Directed by Marius Markevicius, The Other Dream Team begins by introducing us to key players through interviews with the original starting five Lithuanians, former NBA players from the Barcelona Olympics, and Lithuanian government officials. The story then takes a trip through the history of Lithuania from the 1930' when basketball became the favored sport through the Stalin regime including food rations and state organized violence.

The final chapters are much more lighthearted, as the players relate anecdotes about young Lithuanian men travelling through and experiencing America in the 1980s, including the humorous story of the 7’3” Sabonis hiding in the trunk of a car to escape KGB bodyguards, or Marciulionis wondering whether the funny smell at a Grateful Dead concert will permeate the next day.

The editing of archival footage and photos with modern interviews makes for a dynamic and engaging story, keeping viewers attention enough to follow the  complexities of the story. At times the history may be a bit confusing due to the non-linear storytelling, especially for anyone not familiar with the history of the USSR and its Soviet republics. However, the historical component balances out the sports program for anyone like me who is not a big sports fan. The art design and score complement this colorful story quite well.

References in The Other Dream Team to the Grateful Dead were quite confusing as the band's role is not revealed until the final act, when it would have been better placed earlier in the story. Reportedly, as basketball fans the Grateful Dead helped raise money to get the Lithuianian team to Barcelona when they heard about the team's fundraising efforts. A subplot depicting a young Lithuianian preparing for the 2011 NBA draft session is not really given much screen time, seeming more of an afterthought than a strong contrast to the older generation of Lithuianian basketball players.

Despite its flaws, The Other Dream Team is a documentary worth watching for both its educational and entertaining content.