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The Other Dream Team

by on October 18, 2012
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“The Other Dream Team” is the often unheard story of the Lithuanian national basketball team and their rise not only against all physical odds but political odds as well.  This documentary offers an in depth look at the the team’s tumultuous journey featuring interviews with the major players of the era, both on and off the court.

The film is very much a modern day David and Goliath tale.  The 1980’s saw Lithuania still under communist oppression from back when the USSR occupied the territory during World War II.  Given their country’s political climate, players such as Sarunas Marciulionis and Arvydas Sabonis were forced to play basketball for their oppressors.  Not only did they play, they in fact helped win gold medals in the 1988 Summer Olympics for the USSR.  All the while, the team managed to defeat the heavily favored American team on their way to gold.

Sabonis and Marciulionis soon became the poster boys of democracy as they saw their native Lithuania gain independence from their 40+ year occupation under communist rule.  The Lithuanian team soon took over a different persona as they entered the 1992 Summer Olympics as underdogs.  More so than that, 1992 also marked the first time the team was able to represent their own country rather than playing under the facade of the USSR team.  The team was eventually defeated by the Americans that year (the Dream Team mind you) which led them to an even more poignant and significant victory — the bronze medal game versus their former oppressors, Russia.

The two very distinct halves of the film showcase the sincere maturity expressed by every player on the Lithuanian team, both their ability to play under the USSR moniker in 1988 and as representatives for their newly freed country in 1992.  Sabonis may be the most recognized player of the group given his successful foray into the NBA, but what makes the documentary so inspirational is the lack of a clear superstar on any of the Lithuanian teams.  “The Other Dream Team” portrays basketball in it’s purest form: a team game played for the love of the sport.

It’s messages such as these that help drive heartfelt documentaries and propel them from merely good to unforgettable.  “The Other Dream Team” is one such documentary that will stick with you forever.  There’s an important juxtaposition that highlights the importance the 1988 team had on future generations.  Where as Sabonis was prohibited by the USSR to play in the NBA when he was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers, today’s Lithuanian basketball prospects have more opportunities than ever to pursue their dreams.

It’s really quite the emotional journey to see the entire landscape of Lithuania transform from a country under communist occupation to a democracy.  Meanwhile, the single common factor throughout the film remains to be basketball.  It’s the power of playing the game that helped an entire generation of Lithuanians get through some trying times.  All in all, I found the courageousness of the players on that Olympic team to be the backbone of the entire film.  The quality of play coming out of Lithuania has been stellar for decades, but the ability for players to showcase that talent has been exponentially blown wide open, and that truly is the most inspirational message.