Sarunas Marciulionis Rumors
The 1992 U.S. Dream Team is largely credited with starting a revolution across European basketball. For the NBA, though, the revolution came a few years earlier. In 1989, the league welcomed a wave of eastern European players led by Vlade Divac from Yugoslavia, Alexander Volkov from Russia, Drazen Petrovic from Croatia, and Sarunas Marciulionis, a 25-year-old shooting guard from Lithuania. Marciulionis adopted basketball as a full-time passion midway through his childhood. But even as he took to the game, it wasn’t clear that he’d be a superstar. While friends like Arvydas Sabonis were marked for a bright future early on, Marciulionis took longer to establish himself. He went to college and studied journalism, he played club basketball in Lithuania, and while the Soviet National Team monitored his progress as part of its juniors program, he was cut from the senior team three times throughout the 80s.
When he finally made the senior national team in 1987, he’d grown into a bruising two-guard who could score at every level. That’s when his career took off. He starred at the European Championships in Athens, he helped the Soviets shock the world a year later, and eventually, he began thinking about the NBA. The league’s international era began with Sarunas Marciulionis and his peers. It also began with a Christian basketball team touring the Soviet Union, and a scout who was making $25,000-a-year working for his father. And it began with the Olympics in Seoul, not Barcelona.
After Lithuania secured its independence in 1991, Sarunas Marciulionis spearheaded the movement to bring Lithuanian basketball to the ’92 Games. With Donnie Nelson as an assistant, Lithuania beat the Unified Team—a squad made up of players from 12 of the 15 former Soviet Republics, including Russia—in the bronze medal game, with Marciulionis scoring 29 points.
DONNIE NELSON: It was a magical time. You have the greatest basketball team ever assembled for America, and then standing next to them you’ve got Sarunas, as part of this freedom fighting team that literally beat the old Soviet team to win the bronze medal. SARUNAS MARCIULIONIS: Everybody was celebrating and screaming. And I went to shower with my shoes on, with my full uniform, just standing there with one idea: It’s not that I won, but what if I lost? The whole Olympic tournament, all those games, all those fundraisers, all the nation’s excitement. And if you lose… I don’t know what I would do with myself. I was so happy that it was behind us. Then, it was just happiness and tears.
Over the course of three nights in Sukhumi, the group bonded over Kool Moe Dee and bartered with those with the foresight to bring their own snacks. The electricity and phone lines came and went. Hawks guard Doc Rivers and Soviet star Sarunas Marciulionis (armed with his guitar and some Lithuanian folk songs) helped set the tone for an amicable relationship between the teams. Circumstances aside, the Americans were put at ease.