The Other Dream Team

They had facial hair in Argo...and also in Lithuania.

I grew up playing basketball and I love documentaries. The commercials for this movie looked amazing. I was thrilled about seeing it. Unfortunately, it’s a documentary that should’ve aired on ESPN at 1 a.m.

It’s not all about the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic basketball team, with their Grateful Dead jerseys. Many won’t remember that, since this was the same Olympics in which professional NBA players were allowed to join. I remember that time well because it was only the second time I interviewed a person from my favorite team, the Los Angeles Lakers. I was asking Jerry West, a gold medal Olympian in the 60s, what he thought about NBA players going in and he was furious about it. His level of anger about it actually scared me.

The Grateful Dead, huge basketball fans (as San Diegan basketball legend Bill Walton tells you in the film), read the story about Lithuania and paid for their uniforms and started supporting them. Unfortunately, this does mean you have to listen to their songs a few times during the film (my apologies to any Dead Heads that may be reading this).

The Lithuanians helped lead USSR to a gold medal over the U.S.A. in the ’88 Seoul Olympics. It’s strange that while watching it in the movie, I was rooting for them. It’s hard not to after seeing the whole history of their plight.

The problem is Marius Markevicius’s film isn’t done well. He obviously loves basketball, but just as it takes skill to nail a 20-foot jumper, or do a reverse layup between two defenders – you can’t just let the cameras roll on a bunch of talking heads (especially ones that are subtitled).

I have no interest in auto racing, yet the documentary on two racers last year (Senna) was a lot more interesting than this.

I felt like there should’ve been less talking, and more dunking. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting to hear Sarunas Marciulionis and Arvyadas Sabonis talk about how they went from waiting in line for bread…to walking into a Safeway and crying, because they could buy any groceries they wanted. Other times though, I yearned for highlights. They did give us some, and you’re reminded of the moves Pete Maravich, Magic Johnson, and Bob Cousy had back in the day. The movie needed more of that.

This documentary was 90 minutes long, and it felt like it was twice that.

It was great that they got interviews with the key players, including a future teammate on the Golden State Warriors. It was fun to see the Grateful Dead and Mickey Hart talk about playing basketball. The Lithuanians players also talked about the smells in the arena at a Dead show.

When the players told stories like that, or about sneaking out of a hotel in the trunk of a car (How a basketball player fit in the trunk? A Cadillac, of course)…you wished there were more humorous anecdotes like that and less of a history lesson. I felt like I was back in 8th grade in Mr. Hartman’s history class.

One fun fact: at times it was harder to understand Bill Walton than the Lithuanian players!

This movie gets 2 stars out of 5.