I'm a little bit peeved because The Other Dream Team has now forced me to change my top 5, all-time favorite sports movies list (thanks a lot Dallas International Film Festival)...I'll get over it thought because this film was so unbelievably amazing and an absolute must-see.
This is not just another feel good sports movie where the underdog wins. Yes, David beats Goliath, and yes, you do feel all warm and fuzzy at the end. But this story of basketball, politics, rock and roll, and one small country's unyielding pursuit of freedom reminds us that sometimes, it's not just a game.
As a fan of all things sports related, I was familiar with the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic basketball team. As a political wonk, I was familiar with their struggle to regain independence from the Communist and oppressive machine that was the USSR. What I didn't realize until watching this film was how much the 1992 Olympics meant to Lithuania--not in an, "I've dreamed of playing the Olympics my whole life," kind of way, but in a, "I'm fighting for my life and the lives of my family and friends," kind of way. We're not talking about just another impressive match-up for the bronze medal; beating their former oppressors was almost directly tied to their independence. The Lithuanian athletes who were hungry for the NBA weren't chasing the "American Dream," they were after freedom, and perhaps the greatest twist about all of it--they may not have ever been able to get to Barcelona to compete in the Olympics had it not been for the Grateful Dead...you'll have to watch the movie to get the full scoop on this one!
Director, Marius Markevicius, a first generation Lithuanian-American, said this film was a "passion project," and while his profound commitment to the story is apparent, he does an incredible job of creating a high-quality, fact focused film. The interviews and footage he was able to get his hands on made the movie a riveting yet informative piece that is sure to shed light on this very rich part of our global history.
As impressive as the Markevicius' story-telling ability is Donnie Nelson's (Dallas Mavericks GM) commitment to this team and the livelihood of each player. Donnie found his heart for Lithuania when his father, NBA coaching legend, Don Nelson, sent him on a recruiting trip. Donnie would later come to be the assistant coach of the bronze-winning, 1992 Lithuanian Olympic team. His deep commitment to not only the team but also the cause began very early, and as recounts, "Until Sarunas (Marciulionis) took on the establishment, any Lithuanian athlete who wanted to play abroad would have to send 90% of their paycheck back...it was like indentured servitude, and he (Marciulionis) was risking everything."
You don't have to love basketball, or history, or politics, or even the Grateful Dead (although I'm a firm believer that there's a little Deadhead in all of us) to fall head over heals for this movie. There will be a theater release at an undisclosed time, but fret not! You don't even have to wait for the theater release! DIFF will be screening this gem again on Sunday, April 22nd, 8:00pm at the Angelika theater.