Before one can begin to talk about just what basketball means to the people of Lithuania, you have to understand their history, which is essentially one of endurance and pain. Occupied by the Soviet Union during WWII right through to the fall of its communist regime in the late '80s, Lithuanians saw family members sent to Siberia during the war (some never to return), while their very identity was methodically wiped out. And that came down to sports too, with athletes from Soviet controlled territories forced to compete under the red flag if they wanted to compete at all. But for those still looking for something to hold close to their hearts and heritage, it was hard to ignore that four of the five starters on the gold medal winning team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics were Lithuanian: Valdemaras Chomičius, Rimas Kurtinaitis, Šarūnas Marčiulionis and Arvydas Sabonis.
What the documentary does remarkably well is show just how dramatically everything changed from 1988 to the next Olympics in Barcelona in 1992. NBA contracts were signed, the Berlin Wall had come down, the Soviet Union as people knew it was over, and Lithuania found itself with its freedom once again. And an opportunity to claim itself as a strong people in front of the world was too good to resist. Pretty soon the unlikely support of The Grateful Dead -- who are apparently big basketball fans -- allowed Marčiulionis and Sabonis to round up their former teammates and head to Spain. And while these games were the first to feature NBA players at the Olympics -- dubbed The Dream Team due to their obscenely stacked lineup -- another more interesting story was happening away from that spectacle. Lithuania was not only on a course to play against the United States, but also the now loosely assembled remaining Soviet states. A victory over their oppressors would be redemption for years of painful memories, and it all plays out between the paint.
Not everything works in the movie. A subplot about a current Lithuanian player aiming for the NBA draft feels tacked on for some half-hearted "passing the torch" elements, and the history lesson stuff can become overly dense (particularly as its sometimes presented out of chronological order). But we'll always be in favor of a documentary that gives too much rather than not enough, and when it's all in service of a story that deserves to be told, and shines a spotlight on a forgotten piece of sports history, it's hard to argue the lengths Markevicius has gone to cover his bases. Moving, rousing, funny and at times even haunting, "The Other Dream Team" is ample evidence that sports can indeed sometimes change the world. [B+]