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Lithuanian Homesick Blues

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You've heard of Red Square, right?

If you were around in 1992, you might've heard the rallying cry of the '92 Lithuanian Olympic team, "Better Dead than Red." Surely, if you were an avid sports fan, you remember the team of vagabonds parading into the Olympics in their Grateful Dead-funded tie-dye T-shirts in the most memorable medal ceremony of all-time, held after the USA's Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and their cohorts thrilled the world and accepted their gold medals.

Actually, to those, like me, who were in attendance in Barcelona, the bronze medalists, a.k.a. "The Other Dream Team," stole the show. They were the headliners in a post-Cold War, post-Berlin Wall, coming out party that Olympic Games NBC Sports anchorman Jim Lampley called, "one of the cosmic turning points of the 20th century."

Thankfully, that glorious moment in time, that important movement in world history, is captured on film in The Other Dream Team. Yes, thankfully, just like their United States counterparts, called the "greatest team ever assembled," the Lithuanian dreamers have a documentary film of their own and, to many, it's a more interesting and compelling story. At a recent premiere in New York city, all of the lucky attendees, including the Consul General of the Republic of Lithuania in New York, Mr. Valdemaras Sarapinas and his wife, Mrs. Vytė Sarapinienė, had similar thoughts as they beamed with pride after the private screening. Dozens of media members applauded Mr. Marius Markevičius, producer/director of the film, who flew back to his native America from the world premiere in Vilnius. He, along with 1992 bronze medalist Arturas Karnisovas, a multi-time European player of the year, former U.S. collegiate star and Final Four participant with Seton Hall University, were joined by NBA officials, past and present, United Nations dignitaries and film critics at the event.

In case you haven't heard of its newfound roaring success, the flick's first cut garnered significant praise at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. It fast became the highest grossing documentary film in Lithuanian history after only two weeks in theaters and it topped the charts among indie films in the USA over the first weekend on screens in just two cities, New York and Los Angeles. This week, The Other Dream Team premieres in Washington D.C., Philadelphia, San Diego and Orange County, California before it goes to dozens of cities nationwide.

Led by the impressive and aggressive skills of guard Sarunas Marciulionis and the legendary Hall of Fame center Arvydas Sabonis, along with many other familiar names, the '92 team helped inspire their country's break from the shackles of Soviet rule and Communism. Many of the Lithuanian players -- including four of the starting five -- led the (former) USSR to a gold medal and victory over the USA at the '88 Seoul Olympics. However, only four years later, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Lithuanian hoopsters emerged as symbols of freedom and democracy, literally willing newly independent "Lietuva" to the medal stand in Barcelona after an emotional victory over the former USSR, the Russians, Ukrainians and others who competed as the "Unified" team.

Throughout their ordeal, Lithuania's basketball stars always shared a common goal: to utilize their athletic gifts to help their nation bloom. The '92 Lithuanian team won fans around the world for its hard-nosed play, and also with its amazing connection with the Grateful Dead.

Band leader Jerry Garcia, inspired by the team's message of freedom and coaxed by the late Larry "RamRod" Shurtliff who was the "heart and soul" of the band, provided a hefty dose of financial assistance and authorized a distinctive tie-dye warm-up for their friends, complete with the Dead's symbolic icon skeleton, creatively drawn dunking a basketball. My buddy, the great "Ramrod," had often watched Marciulionis at Golden State Warriors games and was a regular at the All-Star Game and NBA Finals, as he road shotgun alongside the great Bill Walton, Basketball Hall of Famer and self-proclaimed "Deadhead." Without them, the athletes of the bankrupt country could not have afforded to travel and qualify for Barcelona.

In addition to the obvious endorsement of Walton and the remaining band members of the Dead, the film has been championed by some of the greatest names in professional basketball, all who appear in the film. Check it out, and as Bill Walton says,

"Freedom, Let's go!"

For information, see: http://otherdreamteam.thefilmarcade.com

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