Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Other Dream Team

Directed by Marius Markevicius.
2012. Not Rated, 89 minutes.
Arvydas Sabonis
Sarunas Marciulionis
Rimas Kurtinaitis
Jonas Valanciunas
Bill Walton
Chris Mullin
Jim Lampley
Dan Majerle
David Stern
Zydrunas Ilgauskas

At the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, basketball was dominated by the U.S. Men's Team. Collectively known as the Dream Team, they were led by such household names as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird. In addition to that trio was a roster full of players headed for the Hall of Fame. What I didn't realize at the time, and I'm not sure how many people did, was that there was another team that much more literally represented the hopes and dreams of their country. That team was from Lithuania. It was a nation that had just wiggled free from beneath the thumb of the Soviet Union. Their independence was so new that just four years earlier, at the prior Olympics, all of the country's athletes played for the Russians. This is the story of how the country gained its freedom and the role basketball played.

Our tale is told through the eyes of the gentlemen who were the stars of both Lithuania's team in '92 and the Soviet team in '88. Two of them, Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis would go on to play in the NBA, themselves. The others would have lengthy pro careers playing internationally. All of them still make their living within the sport in some capacity. Along with some other talking heads, they relay stories of what it was like living under Soviet rule. They speak of harsh and oppressive conditions. We hear of many Lithuanians being exiled to Siberia, a lot of whom never made it home. Through it all, they found joy in the sport they love. However, even that was tainted by being forced to play for another country.

As rough as it sounds, it's not depressing stuff. Our heroes are able to find humor in their despair. There is much laughter as they recount their trips to America while playing for the Soviets. They tell us how they managed to sneak out of their rooms at night despite being forbidden and closely watched by the Russians. We hear them marvel at the sheer availability of everything and the measures they took to smuggle home such illicit goods as blue jeans and walkmans. For you young'uns, the walkman was the iPod of the 80s. Go ahead, google it and have a laugh.

Things turn serious again when our attention is turned to the country's last days as a Russian annex. They speak of yearning to send a team of their very own to the upcoming Olympics once they were free. However, it was a bankrupt nation. We see the players, Marciulionis in particular since he was already in the NBA by that time, making huge efforts to make this happen. Eventually, we learn how rock legends The Grateful Dead took up their cause. It's all a heartwarming and uplifting documentary. You know what I'm saying: underdogs making good, triumph of the human spirit, and all that cheesiness. Thankfully, it's cheese that works and has plenty of basketball footage mixed in.

MY SCORE: 8/10

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