After the downfall of the Soviet Union, many of the countries exiting the bloc, such as Lithuanian were left extremely poor. Much of their country’s economy was subsidized by the Soviet Union, so there was a big-time of adjustment on figuring out how to stand on their own feet. Of course, anything that was not considered necessary was quickly cut from the budget. And that included sending the Lithuanian basketball team to the Olympics.
But sometimes a basketball team is more than a team, you can see culture and hope through sports teams and that is what happened on this occasion. The Lithuanian 1992 team represented a whole lot more at the time, for many they were a very representation of freedom. So how did this happen?
Basketball was a pride and joy for the Soviet Union they generally dominated Olympic basketball due to a state-funded training program. For over eight consecutive summers they gained medals, with the streak only ending when they decided to boycott the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984. Some of the best players from Russia were names like Mikhail Studenetsky, Aleksandr Travin, and of course, Sergei Belov. But the world never really saw them play due to the restrictions placed on them. Any dreams of playing in the NBA would have been seen as defecting and their families would have felt the wrath of Stalin.
All this changed in the 1992 Olympics after the Soviet Union had broken down. Lithuania was a basketball-crazy country with its stars playing abroad in the NBA and Spanish leagues since the country’s independence. Marciulionis was playing for the Golden State Warriors and was trying to use some of his NBA money to finance the newly independent Lithuania’s team trip to Barcelona Olympics. But the travel, equipment, and accommodations were proving to be too expensive, however, the team knew if they could just get there they would win a medal.
The Hippie Jam band The Grateful Dead heard about their struggles and decided to pitch in, under one condition. They felt uniforms represented something unvaried that followed one principle: prisoners wear uniforms. So the Lithuanians would wear jerseys. As such The Grateful Dead sent them a check and a load of colorful, free-flowing tie-dye warm-up jerseys: including a flying dunking skeleton right smack in the middle.
The rest, as they say, is history, they blazed through the Olympics and though they couldn’t take the gold against The United States of America, they were able to beat the Russians and secure a bronze medal.