The Other Dream Team

January, 23, 2012
1/23/12
9:28
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Thousands of tears have been shed as a result of the Soviet annexation of Lithuania, most of which will never be redeemed.

But of the little redemption there has been ... a lot of it comes from basketball. Specifically, the 1992 Lithuanian national team, as portrayed in a powerful documentary, "The Other Dream Team" (you can see a bit here). Alan Bacchus of Daily Film Dose writes:
Filmmaker Marius Markevicius charts a 50-year odyssey of the small Baltic country with 3 million people from pre-war prosperity to annexation and poverty under the then Soviets to their violent revolution in 1991. All the while we learn about the county's mad obsession with basketball, which birthed superstars Sarunas Marciulionis and Arvydas Sabonis. The film charts their success in the Soviet league in the ‘80s to their courtship by the NBA and all the political and cultural conflicts they encountered.

Interviews with Marciulionis, Sabonis and other players confirm all the preconceived notions of poverty behind the Iron Curtain. But the biggest tragedy is not the absence of bread or blue jeans, but their lack of freedom to express their culture, language and identity as Lithuanians. Even the seasoned journalist Jim Lampley tears up when recounting the pain of these players during this period.

The players’ stories are so rich that Markevicius doesn't even get to the 1992 Olympics until the final act, which feels like a bonus track on a masterpiece album.

The coda to this story comes after the liberation of the country and the fall of the Iron Curtain. But once we get embroiled in the drama of the Olympics it becomes a film within a film. The involvement of The Grateful Dead in funding the basketball team's trip to the Olympics is zany enough to make up its own documentary. Same with the awesome sight of other marginalized peoples competing under new or old flags (e.g., South Africa and Estonia). We're also treated to some astonishing footage of the US Dream Team demolishing opponents. But the dramatic climax to the picture comes in the form of a storybook match between the former Soviet Union and Lithuania, which is so emotional and moving it didn't leave a dry eye in the house.

The Other Dream Team debuted this weekend at Sundance.

Henry Abbott | email

TrueHoop, NBA

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