After leading Spain to the 21st straight quarterfinals appearance in a Eurobasket, Lorenzo Brown was in the spotlight, and not necessarily for the right reason. Lithuanian forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas during the press conference said to a Spanish reporter about the presence of Brown, who got the Spanish passport this summer: “I am not sure how this team would look without Lorenzo Brown because you signed him only this summer. But it is how it is”.
As my eyes scan the rows of people surrounding me, however, I notice that one of the most popular shirt types doesn’t even mention the band. I recognized this as the iconic tie-dye t-shirt worn by Lithuania’s men’s basketball team that won the bronze medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. You may have seen this t-shirt before without realizing it. There is a photo of Jonah Hill rocking the same look. Lisa Kudrow’s character, Phoebe, wore one on an episode of “Friends” in 1997. The sportswriter Jack MacCallum has described the shirts as “a stoned-out psychedelic masterpiece” and his favorite sports memento. They’ve become collector’s items – there are multiple versions, some rarer than others – that re-sell for hundreds of dollars on eBay and vintage clothing sites such as Grailed. Bill Walton, who has been to over 1,000 (!) Dead shows, says the shirts are at every show. “It always brings the biggest smile to my face because I know how much went in,” Waltontold me. “It’s really difficult to understand the magnitude and the significance and the impact and the power of what went down with those shirts.”
Walton, who was also watching the games live on television,told me he was an immediate fan of these t-shirts. “My favorite color is rainbow,” Walton said. “That’s one of the reasons why I love the colors of the Lithuanian shirts. It’s really the rainbow of life.” Liquid Blue’s Roidoulis also believes the colors of Lithuania’s flag played an important role in why the shirt became such a hit. “The fact that they were reggae colors did not hurt,” Roidoulis said. “In fact, it definitely helped.”
Once actually at the Olympics, Lithuania made it to the semifinals. They lost to the United States. Karnisovas was famously so excited to face the likes of Jordan and Magic Johnson and Larry Bird that, while in his jersey, he ended up taking photos of the game from the sideline. “The Other Dream Team” (as nicknamed in the 2012 documentary) was slated for the Bronze Medal Game and had to face off against the former USSR. It was a scrappy duel, and though there was just a one-point differential with six minutes remaining, Lithuania was victorious to win the bronze. There was a six-hour window between when the game was over and when the medal ceremony began and they suddenly had lots of time on their hands to think about their journey. “We were a little bit buzzed,” said Marciulionis with a big laugh, as he remembered partying in the locker rooms with the Australian team.
McNally said the band is credited with “genius marketing” on this project even though the first round of memorabilia contained no band logos, nor was it directly funded by the Grateful Dead. “It is a much less romantic version of the story,” McNally admitted. “That’s the story that everybody constantly ignores. It was just Grateful Dead serendipity … We got a lot of credit that we didn’t deserve.” Speirs feels similarly when he reflects on how previous versions were told. “It’s such a great story that maybe they wanted the story the way they envisioned it or the way they really wanted the story to be,” Speirs said. “Like a fantasy but not in reality or with correct facts.”
The Grateful Dead even held a press conference with Walton (who was then an NBC broadcaster), Marciulionis (then with the Kings), Nelson (then a Suns assistant), and Warriors forward Chris Mullin to promote the sales. Their 1996 design, still in the iconic tie-dye, had no skeleton but did have the Grateful Dead 13-point lightning bolt imprinted on a basketball. Additionally, with a close examination, the net resembled the “Steal Your Face” skull. This design was by Wayne Swarthout and Bob Sauer. “I think it’s genius,” said McNally, who believes that if you asked a graphic artist to combine the Grateful Dead and basketball, that would be exactly what they would come up with. “I thought that was a beautiful design.”
Lithuanian fans were producing quite the noise, booing for Bosnia and cheering for France with a passion. They were highly invested in the game for a very simple reason: If Bosnia had won then the EuroBasket adventure would’ve been over for Lithuania. “I thought that was awesome,” French national team captain Evan Fournier said. “I’m sure they googled how to say thank you in France before the game. I think it was awesome, the way they cheers for us. Obviously they had reasons.”