Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Movie – The Other Dream Team (2012)

The Other Dream Team is a documentary about the 1992 Lithuanian men’s Olympic basketball team and it is one of my Top 10 films of 2012.  The title is a reference to the fact that the much more celebrated 1992 American men’s Olympic basketball team was dubbed “the dream team” because for the first time NBA players were allowed to participate in the Games and because this American team contained the greatest assemblage of basketball players on one team in the history of the sport.  They were just there for the basketball, though.  The Lithuanian team was there for a much bigger reason – freedom.

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 Lithuania is for that matter.  In short they were an independent country until the Soviet Union annexed them during World War II (along with Latvia and Estonia).  When the countries that Hitler had annexed were given back their freedom, the ones taken by the Soviet Union were not.  For decades Lithuania was just a small part of the vast Soviet empire.  When the Berlin Wall came down, though, things started to change.

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 Russia was by far the largest of the Soviet republics.

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 Lithuania 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.

In 1992 almost all the former Soviet republics still competed together as the “Unified Team”, but this did not include Lithuania.  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.

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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  1. You have convinced me I need to see this movie. Well done.

  2. Lithuania did very well at that tournament. Bronze if I remember right. This is a movie I must see.

  3. @Rachel Parkin and TSorensen - Thank you. You've both given me quite a compliment. I write my reviews not because I have a fantasy that someday I will be a famous movie critic, but to introduce people to films that they might not otherwise have thought to see. I hope that when you do see this you agree that it needs more attention from others.