For most people basketball is merely a recreation sport — a game that replaces cardio in the Lyon Center. Let’s be honest, who needs cardio when you’re getting “swoll” by defying gravity and lifting really heavy objects off the ground.
But to the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic basketball team, basketball represents more than a sport, particularly considering Lithuania’s past clouded with annexation from the Soviet Union. The Other Dream Team, a basketball documentary about the Lithuanians’ journey to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, revolves around the theme of how a basketball team brought a nation to prominence — in essence, taking the “dream team” definition to another level.
The Other Dream Team begins with the 1988 Seoul Olympics victory of the Soviet Union basketball team over the American team that boasted superstar center David Robinson. Of the five starters in this championship basketball team, four were Lithuanians who did not want to be associated with the Soviets. The film then explains this animosity between the players and the Soviet Union by displaying footage of Russia’s 1940 occupation of Lithuania. At its core, the film documents how the Lithuanians and their basketball team escaped Soviet Communism to form an independent nation.
Most poignantly, however, the film ends by displaying the independent Lithuanian basketball team rocking the Grateful Dead-sponsored tie-dye skeleton dunking T-shirt in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Viewers soon realize that the shirt symbolizes everything Lithuania stands for. Splattered with yellow, green and red (the Lithuanian colors), the shirt represents the passion, love and courage that the Lithuanian basketball team displays. This love — for basketball and their country — is intimately displayed throughout the film as players of The Other Dream Team talk about their experiences, which even include avoiding the former Russian secret police and intelligence agency, the KGB.
The Other Dream Team boasts themes akin to those found in other underdog stories; overcoming adversity, escaping comfort zones and ultimately the rising to historic fame, but in a true story. In one instance, Lithuanian basketball players are shown hiding in the trunk of a Cadillac “big enough to have a picnic in” as they travel through cities on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain. Real footage of the Russian occupation allows viewers to sympathize with the struggling country. Clips of Russian tanks killing innocent civilians, Russian soldiers dominating Lithuania and propaganda posters depicting the Soviet Union as an animal all make a compelling case for viewers to side with Lithuania.
Visual images notwithstanding, The Other Dream Team excels in terms of sound. Sponsored by the Grateful Dead, the film features an enjoyable soundtrack that perfectly depicts the mood of the movie. No, the soundtrack might not contain the Grateful Dead’s best hits, but appropriate music is used at appropriate times. In addition, the music is unforced and is only used when it needs to be.
The Other Dream Team also incorporates moving quotes in order to emotionally affect viewers. The intense nationalistic spirit of Lithuania is tangible throughout the entire film, and the director completely captures the essence of the WWII historical period. The plights and struggles that Lithuania endured under Soviet control is reflected through a very intimate point of view. The fact the director used the very players that went through the situation to retell the story ultimately made the movie much more profound.
The film becomes especially emotional when the basketball players recall their childhoods, how they built their own basketball court, hoops and backboard in order to play.
The Other Dream Team is a must watch for anyone who loves a good underdog story. This is a film for the go-getters, the dark horses that live for upsets and fight for freedom. If you fit these criteria, then this film is definitely worthwhile.