Better Dead Than Red: The Other Dream Team Is Documentary Gold

Better Dead Than Red: The Other Dream Team Is Documentary Gold

Ahhhh, the summer of ’92! I was a spry nine-year-old who, in an attempt to look cutting-edge, would roll my long jean shorts and tuck in and blouse out my large “Dream Team” shirt at least twice a week. I remember it was sort of cartoony and all the players had oversized heads. (You can imagine how popular I was with the nine-year-old fellas). The Barcelona Olympics were on, team USA kicked major ass, school was out and we had a pool! Life was pretty grand.

The summer of ’92 was also a profound time for the small Baltic country of Lithuania. After about fifty years of being under Soviet Union rule, they finally received their independence. The Other Dream Team is an inspiring tale of the ’92 Lithuanian basketball team who, after a tumultuous number of years, finally received their indigenous identity back.

Basketball is apparently the most popular sport in Lithuania. I would have thought it would be sgligin-toss, which is when two people throw themselves down a hill and see who makes it to the bottom first. (Yes, I just made that up.) Led by Sarunas Marciulionis and Arvydas Sabonis (who ended up playing in the NBA), Lithuania had a dynamite team.

The ’88 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea was not so magical for the “Lithuanian basketball team.” I use quotations because, even though four out of the five starters were Lithuanian, they were still occupied by the Soviet Union; therefore, their red uniforms and the gold medal they won reflected the tyrannical annexation. Ugh, can you imagine getting all the way to the Olympics and then having to represent the cruel hussy that was Mother Russia!? (Womp womp).

Throughout the movie there is well edited, vintage basketball footage and the reflective commentary of “toothy” Bill Walton, “occasional weepy” Jim Lampley and the “oh-so-popular” NBA Commissioner David Stern made for an informative and entertaining experience.

Along with the editing and commentary, the emotional narration of the four players made you feel like you were right there with them. Director Marius A. Markevicius incorporates grainy footage of Soviet tanks demolishing their country as women and children weep in the streets. It can be a bit jarring at times but it’s necessary to drive the story. The injustice gets you amped. You can’t wait to see Lithuania play Russia! Like most well-crafted stories there is always a snag. Before the qualifications, the team needed funding.

The fall of the Berlin Wall shed some light on the turmoil that had happened in Lithuania and the good ‘ol US of A was the first to jump at the chance to help. Who wrote the generous check you ask? Answer: The Grateful Dead. If this story wasn’t bad-ass enough! Apparently The Dead are huge basketball fans (who knew?) and wanted to see Lithuania play for their country’s honor. What loveable stoners. I was wondering why the movie poster was a skeleton slam-dunking a basketball.

The team’s slogan was “Better Dead than Red” which, after team USA squished Lithuania and our gold was secured, was our nation’s slogan as well. Lithuania ended up beating Russia (The Unified Team) and won a bronze. The team is unanimous when they say winning the bronze for their own country was far more valuable than the gold they won for the Soviet Union in ’88. During the medal ceremony they payed homage to The Grateful Dead by rockin’ tie-dyed shirts with Lithuanian Colors. Awesome.

I am a complete and utter nerd for sports documentaries (when I saw ESPN’s 30 for 30 was streaming on Netflix I did a Kurt Gibson style fist pump) so this is an automatic jewel for yours truly. Seeing these guys persevere through the power of a sport gives me goosebumps. Sports are here for our amusement, yes, but they can also unify towns, cities, states and even countries. Informative and inspirational, The Other Dream Team is something you should make time for. Plus, basketball season is upon us! Go Bulls!





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