The Other Dream Team
Indie music, movies, literature... but there's a fourth passion of mine that I have never written about on this blog: basketball. I'm a devoted fan of this sport since I was a little kid. NBA (way less now), European and national basketball. I can almost watch and enjoy any kind of basketball game. And aside from Barça, my other favourite team will always be the Lithuanian National team. If I name my all-time three favourite players, Arturas Karnisovas, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Arvydas Sabonis, I think what I want to say is quite obvious. "The Other Dream Team" had all the ingredients to be a very special film for me.
What I had no idea was that this documentary was going to be so rewarding and absorbing. "The Other Dream Team" is a surprisingly powerful look into what means basketball for Lithuania, what role this sport had in the country's fight for its Independence from the USSR, and how its (arguably?) best basketball generation lived and struggled under the previous regime to then became symbols and most recognisable faces of the new, free Lithuania.
Director Marius A. Markevicius took the conventional approach with little, if not zero, flashy or original structure, just archive footage combined with the opinions of the people interviewed. But please don't understand this as a criticism. Markevicius knows he has an incredible, true story to show here, and who's better to tell it than the people who were part of it? That's what matters, after all.
And what story this is. For basketball fans like me, to listen & see myths like Arvydas Sabonis, Sarunas Marciulionis, Valdemaras Homicius and Rimas Kurtinaitis, is just precious (also add Vladas Garastas, Bill Walton, Chris Mullin, and Arturas Karnisovas, yes!!!, among others). But their opinions are not meaningful just for basketball fans. No, they are even more relevant because they show the human beings behind the stars.
The legendary players talk openly about their extremely humble beginnings and what their family suffered with the Soviet Union's invasion. They show how tough and conflicting times (Marciulionis' face when talking about his speech says it all) they had representing the USSR national team in the 80s, beating the USA on the Seoul Olympics, while at the national league the fights between Zalgiris Kaunas and CSKA Moscow were more than just games. How their careers were on the verge of collapsing due to the Soviet barriers against their players going overseas. And of course how they lived the revolt and freedom of their country, finally representing, and winning bronze medal at Barcelona 1992 Olympics, beating the Unified team on the final match. They gave the reborn Lithuania an outstanding athletic achievement that served to commemorate their independence worldwide. Yes that tournament will be always remembered as the one that gathered the most impressive basketball team ever: the USA's Dream Team. But it should be remembered too for the unbelievable triumph of the Lithuanian team, and for what it represented for a whole nation in such a crucial moment of its history. Besides, the funny note of the film, this was the most improbable, cool and music related basket squad ever, thanks to The Grateful Dead (no spoiling).
Lithuania is a country that breathes basketball, the only European country I know where football (maybe Slovenia too?) is not number one sport (please resist that way). Thanks to this documentary I understand some of the reasons why. This sport gave them strength and a distraction to keep surviving while they were living under an extremely long dictatorial regime, and gave them inspiration and pride to finally free themselves. The filmmakers brilliantly understood that behind this feel-good-sports tale there was a highly interesting political/historical story to explain, not shy of including also the opinions and views of Lithuanian political leaders (even to an arguably excess, would have been interesting to count with "the other side" perspective). Seeing and hearing what the Lithuanian players went through we realise what every citizen was suffering, understanding why basketball means so much for this little country. The parallel story of Jonas Valanciunas towards his inclusion of 2011 NBA draft completes the picture with grace.
A moving, very special film. For basketball and non-basketball fans.