Why should anyone care about the 1992 Lithuanian men’s basketball team? The documentary explains. It gives a brief history lesson for those who do not know what happened to
Lithuania, or even what is for that matter. In short they were an independent country until the Soviet Union annexed them during World War II (along with Lithuania Latvia and ). When the countries that Hitler had annexed were given back their freedom, the ones taken by the Estonia Soviet Union were not. For decades was just a small part of the vast Soviet empire. When the Berlin Wall came down, though, things started to change. Lithuania
The movie shows how
Lithuania had been mad about basketball for quite some time and that a single athletic club in a single city produced some of the best basketball players in the Soviet Union. It was the 1980s and the Soviets still recruited players from every one of their republics. The 1988 Soviet men’s basketball team, which won the Olympic Gold Medal, had Lithuanians in four of the five starting positions. In fact, the entire 12 man squad only had three Russians on it, even though was by far the largest of the Soviet republics. Russia
In the four short years until the 1992 Olympics there was a seismic change in the world. The
Soviet Union was starting to disintegrate after a failed coup. Prior to this had already been testing the limits on their freedom, and this extended even to the basketball players. One of them – Sarunas Marciulionis – had signed a contract with an NBA team without the approval of the Soviet sports governing body. He made a stand and was allowed to leave. Not long after the entire country of Lithuania also made a stand against the Soviets, but things did not go quite so well for them. Lithuania
In 1992 almost all the former Soviet republics still competed together as the “Unified Team”, but this did not include
. They went to the 1992 Olympics as their own country for the first time since 1936. The men’s basketball team knew that no one, not even them, had a chance at beating the Americans, but they did have a chance to do something that might mean even more to them – beating the Unified (i.e. Soviet) team that they had been forced to play for. Lithuania
Fielding an Olympic team costs money, though, and having left the massive Soviet sports complex behind, money was one thing that was in short supply. Enter The Grateful Dead. Yes, the musical group. (Why is explained in the doc.) And because NBA players were now allowed to participate, Marciulionis was able to come back and re-join his other Lithuanian countrymen on the team.
The doc does a good job of balancing the basketball and the politics. You do not have to know much of anything about the sport to understand the movie. I was impressed with the number of people the filmmakers got to sit down and talk with them. This included not just the Lithuanian basketball players and government officials, but also members of The Grateful Dead, American basketball players, American sportscasters, and even key members of the 1988 Soviet and 1992 Unified teams.
Even though many Lithuanian people get interviewed I would say that a majority of the dialogue in the film is English, but there are some people who do get subtitled. Unless you hate documentaries for being, well, documentaries, I highly recommend this film.
Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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