New Documentary Cements Lithuania as Basketball Mecca

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent ISeptember 25, 2012

photo courtesy of nbcolympics.com
photo courtesy of nbcolympics.com

Earlier tonight, I had the opportunity to attend a screening of Marius A. Markevicius' upcoming documentary, The Other Dream Team, hosted by Lithuania's Consul General Valdemaras Sarapinas.  Mr. Markevicius, a Lithuanian-American from Southern California, has made a film about the 1992 Lithuanian national basketball team, which won the bronze medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics at Barcelona and featured four players who were part of the Soviet Union squad that defeated Team USA at the 1988 Games in Seoul.  Among these four was recent Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis, who enjoyed a lucrative career with the Portland Trail Blazers.

The film itself is something that basketball fans both old and young should see.  Markevicius paints a fine picture of Lithuania, a country torn apart by nearly half a century of Soviet occupation and one that found solace from the oppression in basketball.  In the very beginning of the movie, guard Sarunas Marciulionis shows the cameras his old apartment building and the basketball court that has stood outside of it for decades.

Even better, the four players on whom Markevicius focuses (Sabonis, Marciulionis, Rimas Kurtinaitis and Valdemaras Chomicius) are more than just players representing their country in their respective sport.  These men are human beings; sons, fathers, players who struggled so hard to keep their national identity when the Soviet government did everything in its power to take it away.

More important, however, is Lithuanian players' status as pioneers of basketball as we know it today.  In 1989, two years after being drafted, Marciulionis made his NBA debut for the Golden State Warriors and set the tone for the internationalization of the league.  When taking a look into the future, Markevicius' subplot (for lack of better word) makes Lithuania's basketball story come full circle and lightly focuses on prospect Jonas Valanciunas, who was drafted sixth overall by the Toronto Raptors in 2011.

That all being said, The Other Dream Team, which opens nationwide this coming Friday, is more than just a film about a basketball team born out of a newly freed nation.  It is Mr. Markevicius' love letter to basketball as a sport, as he clearly has a passion for the game.  After the film was over, he talked about growing up in California and being a huge Los Angeles Lakers fan, but getting flak from his friends in 1988 when, at age 12, he was the only one excited about the Soviet team defeating the United States, just because the stars were Lithuanian. 

Four years later, his allegiances were the same as he supported Lithuania yet again.

"I knew they had no chance," Markevicius said.  "I knew it wasn't going to happen, but I wanted them to stand in and do well, and I rooted for my American guys too.  It was just a fun thing to watch."

Fortunately for Mr. Markevicius, so is his new film and if you grew up watching basketball in the '80s and '90s or just love the game as a whole, definitely go see it when it hits theaters on Friday!