Lithuania has a long history of basketball excellence, including European Basketball Championships in 1937 and 1939. But the Baltic state’s independence (and sporting identity) disappeared during World War II, when it was annexed by the Soviet Union.
With Lithuanian athletes now playing for the Soviet team, the USSR routinely took home Olympic medals in basketball, including gold in 1988 when a Lithuania-dominated team triumphed over Yugoslavia.
Lithuania regained its independence in 1990, but there was no money for basketball, until they found an unlikely benefactor: the Grateful Dead.
The iconic Bay Area rock band decided to help Lithuania celebrate their newfound freedom. The band sent the team a large check to cover transportation costs and included splashy tie-dyed uniforms so that they could compete in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona in proper Deadhead style.
The Other Dream Team:
- The red, yellow and green uniforms, a kaleidoscope featuring Lithuania’s national colors, included an image of a skeleton dunking a basketball.
- In Barcelona, with the Lithuanians playing for their own flag for the first time in more than 50 years, the team reached the semifinals, losing to the American “Dream Team.”
- As fate would have it, the Lithuanians met the Russians in a battle for third place. In a major upset, the Baltic ballers won 82-78, and wore their tie-dye shirts on the podium to collect their bronze medals.