When Americans hear "the Dream Team," sports fans conjure images of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, David Robinson, and more as the team went undefeated in the 1992 Olympics and won the gold medal. But for Lithuania, the country who won the bronze medal that year, basketball wasn't just a game - the court was a political battlefield on which their country gained independence from the Soviet Union.
The Other Dream Team gives an expansive look at the political landscape of Lithuania during the late 1980s and early 1990s, providing a perspective that most Americans (myself included) have never bothered to examine. In 1988, the USSR Olympic team defeated the United States in competition, but four out of the five starting players on that squad were Lithuanian. Occupied by the USSR at the time, Lithuania wasn't recognized as a soverign nation, so Russia pulled from the nearly 200 million residents of the USSR territories to create the finest team they could. Through interviews and news footage, we see what basketball meant to the little country of 3 million people as it fought for its independence.
The movie follows Arvydas Sabonis, Sarunas Marciulionis, and a few others as they tell their own personal stories cross-cut with the more sweeping tale of the country as a whole. It's like a real-life Mighty Ducks, but instead of a kid's movie with no real stakes involved, these guys were playing to keep their families fed. The disparity in lifestyles between American athletes at the time is shocking; while Jordan and other pros were making shoe commercials, Sabonis and his family were standing in bread lines. Director Marius Markevicius tells this remarkable true story in an entertaining way, keeping the pace up even when dour topics arise.
If you're a history nut but don't like basketball, this movie still has the potential to entertain you. It chronicles the history of Lithuania from the early 1930s to present day, concentrating on the stars of the 1992 team but also focusing on one current prospect from the country hoping to make it into the NBA. There's even a section devoted to The Grateful Dead, the jam band who bankrolled the fledgling country's trip to the Olympics and created tie-dyed T-shirts for the team that were seen and sold across the world. The Other Dream Team is an inspiring story that makes you want to jump to your feet and cheer. If the events depicted here occured in a cheesy Disney movie, I'd roll my eyes. But for Lithuania, their country's history was forever altered by the sport of basketball and the men brave enough to play it.