Because You Need To Watch "The Other Dream Team" Documentary

By Alex Wong / @steven_lebron

Sports and politics are two topics that tend to bleed into each other more often than we think, more often than we like. You only need to select any handful of storylines in sports to recognize the blending of the two, or if you're like me and read David Zirin on the regular.

And it's that context that makes "The Other Dream Team" -- a documentary film about the '92 Lithuanian Olympic Basketball Team, but really about Lithuania's path to becoming an independent country at the same time -- such an interesting movie and one that I'm putting at the top of my recommendations list.

The end of the Lithuania Olympic team story is probably the part that most are familiar with. After finally declaring and gaining independence from the Soviet Union in the early '90s, the team received help from The Grateful Dead to be able to fund a trip to Barcelona and ended up beating the Russian basketball team for the bronze medal.

If this is new to you, maybe those tie-dyed shirts will spark a memory.

But it's not how this story ends that makes the documentary so great: it's the power of the back story, with two of the members of the team -- Sarunas Marciulionis and Arvydas Sabonis -- as the prominent characters, that makes the entire narrative so powerful.

Sabonis, of course, was known to most as a past-his-prime center of the Portland Trail Blazers. But the film provides commentary and footage of his earlier days that makes the myth of his legend come to live. He was ahead of his time in turning the archetype of the center position on its head. He was as dangerous passing in the low post as he was scoring and was an all-around player whose ability to see everyone on the floor made him more point guard than big man.

Even more fascinating is Marciulionis, who was the top player in the country at the time that Lithuania was still under the Soviet Union's control. After already seeing the Soviet deny Sabonis from joining the NBA after the Blazers drafted him in 1985, Marciulionis had two potential suitors: the Atlanta Hawks and the Golden State Warriors.

In what can be now described as a symbolic declaration of Lithuania's desire for independence, he took the risk of signing a contract with the Warriors, even with the risk of the Soviet stepping in and even possible imprisonment.

His worst fears never materialized, and he was one of the first European players to make a real impact in the NBA. He not only did his country proud at the time, but he also paved the way for those after him with the same aspirations of playing overseas.

The film itself is not all serious. There are fun moments like when the Lithuanian players first visited the United States and were so fascinated with chicken that they dined at KFC almost every day (no love for Popeyes, Arvydas?). And, of course, how Marciulionis met the Grateful Dead to enable his team to participate in the Olympics is a great story as well.

I'll leave the rest of the details for your actual viewing, but if we're talking about impactful sports documentaries like Hoop Dreams, or the best from the 30 for 30 series, "The Other Dream Team" ranks right beside those, so take the 90 minutes of your time to check it out.

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