If you are a hoops fan and hear “Dream Team,” you probably don’t think of the Knicks or the Nets, but the USA ’92 Olympic Team. For sure. The first edition of NBA players into the Olympics had its long line of New York area connections, from Brooklyn’s Chris Mullin to the Knicks Patrick Ewing to former Nets coach Chuck Daly and then-Seton hall coach P.J. Carlesimo, but many area fans probably don’t realize the connection to the “Other Dream Team,” the ’92 silver medal Lithuanian team that is now being featured in the acclaimed documentary of the same name which opens in theaters across the country next week.
The tie to that team was not on the streets of New York but in the wilds of the Meadowlands, where rising Seton Hall star Artūras Karnišovas, just a little over two years removed from a freshman season helping the Pirates to the Elite Eight, was helping carve global basketball history.
Although not yet the international sensation that saw him help lead Lithuania to Olympic medals in both ’96 and ’00, the young Karnišovas witnessed history as the tie-dye clad stars finished second to the Americans in the landmark Olympics, and became the global symbol of social progress for a nation that was rising from Soviet oppression.
Directed by Marius Markevicius, “The Other Dream Team” is the amazing story of the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic basketball team, a group of trailblazing athletes who won the bronze at the Barcelona Olympics and left an indelible mark on the history books.
Led by the unique skills of future NBA stars like Sarunas Marciulionis and Arvydas Sabonis and many other familiar faces, the 1992 team helped their country break free from the shackles of Communism. After leading the USSR to a gold medal (and victory over the USA) at the ’88 Seoul Olympics, Marciulionis and Sabonis were poster boys for the Soviet sports machine.
Four years later, after the fall of the Soviet Union, they emerged as symbols of democracy, willing newly-independent Lithuania to the medal stand in Barcelona. The film documents the Lithuanians’ experiences behind the Iron Curtain, where elite athletes were subjected to the vagaries of Communist rule.
As they smuggled VCRs on road trips and hid from KGB agents, Lithuania’s basketball stars always shared a common goal-to utilize their athletic gifts to help a nation bloom. The ’92 Lithuanian team won fans around the world for its hard-nosed play-and its unusual connection with the Grateful Dead. Inspired by the team’s message of freedom, the Dead provided financial assistance and helped create their distinctive tie-dye warm-up, none of which was lost on the forward who had spent the two previous winters on the NCAA hardwood.
“We never realized the impact we would have as a team at that time, we were enjoying playing basketball and representing our country,” Karnišovas said recently. “It really wasn’t until a good amount of time past and we got more exposure in professional basketball circles that it became a lot clearer. It was a special time and I was glad to be a part of it.”
The experience Karnišovas gained around that team, as well as his time at Seton hall under Carlesimo, helped lead him not to the NBA as a player, but back to Europe, where he became a EuroLeague star for over a decade and is now helping find the next global stars as a scout for the NBA’s Houston Rockets. However it is his time playing on the global circuit for his new country that probably impacted the most lives, and now with the debut of the documentary, even more individuals who may now have realized the landmark accomplishments not just of the American “Dream Team,” but of one of their toughest opponents as well. The film will begin its run in cities next week