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2012 07 25

Lithuania's Dream Team at 1992 Barcelona Olympics - still a gold standard to match

With only days left until the opening of London Olympics, Lithuania's eyes are on its national basketball team, tasked with bringing home Olympic medals. FIBA.com remembers Lithuania's performance in 1992 Barcelona Olympics, where an ambitious but underfunded team won brozne, bringing much joy to the newly-independent country and setting a standard for every subsequent Olympic squad to live up to.
Lietuvos krepšinio rinktinė Barselonos olimpinėse žaidynėse.
Lithuanian basketball team at 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games / Filmo kūrėjų nuotr.

Ask any of the United States Dream Team players about the Lithuania side that played at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and they will have something to say.

The Lithuanians, having only just gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, boasted great players at every position on the floor and plenty of charisma.

Before the Barcelona Games, those outside of Lithuania might not have appreciated the distinct differences between those men who hailed from the great basketball cities of Vilnius and Kaunas and the Soviet Union as a whole.

But the truth of the matter is that the great Soviet teams at Olympic Games had Lithuanians in them.

To illustrate this point, consider the 1988 Soviet side that captured the gold medal at the Seoul Games in Korea.

The three leading scorers in that team were Lithuanians Šarūnas Marčiulionis (18.1pts), Rimas Kurtinaitis (13.4) and Arvydas Sabonis (13.3).

Valdemaras Chomičius, another of the Lithuania legends, was also in that squad that beat the United States in the Semi-Finals and then Yugoslavia in the title game.

What helped put the Lithuania team in the spotlight at the Barcelona Games was their precarious financial situation that almost prevented them from taking part.

Lithuania were the first Soviet republic to declare its independence.

The country was trying to move from a planned economy to a free-market one and there were fears that the national team wouldn’t have the finances in place to prepare for, and then compete at the 1992 Olympics.

The American rock group, the Grateful Dead, discovered their plight and served as sponsors for the team.

The band licensed Grateful Dead images for production of t-shirts and the sales helped the Lithuanians make it to Spain.

Once the Games were underway, the Lithuania team razzled and dazzled its way to the bronze medal.

In addition to Marčiulionis, Sabonis, Chomičius and Kurtinaitis, there was sharpshooter Arturas Karnisovas, a player who Americans knew well since he’d shot to fame in college basketball while playing for PJ Carlesimo at Seton Hall University.

In the bronze-medal triumph over the Commonwealth of Independent States (i.e. the former Soviet Union), Marčiulionis and Sabonis poured in 29 and 27 points, respectively, as Lithuania won 82-78.

Considering that Lithuania had almost not been able to fund their Olympic participation, the medal felt like gold for the players and their devoted followers.

If the American Dream Team changed international basketball, so did that Lithuania side.

They lost to the United States in the Semi-Finals, yet showed how a David could compete with Goliaths.

Today, fans of Lithuania still wear shirts at games that have Grateful Dead images combined with Lietuvos.

More than anything, the Lithuanians at the Barcelona Games inspired their people and showed that on the biggest stage, anything was possible.

Since that time, Lithuania has entered every tournament ready to fight and put its best foot forward.

Lithuania has played in the Semi-Finals of every Olympics since Barcelona, a remarkable run.


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