When The Grateful Dead Helped Lithuania Win Basketball Olympic Bronze

By | August 21, 2020

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A shirt featuring the dunking skeleton, nicknamed 'Skully,' designed as a Grateful-Dead-appropriate mascot for the Lithuanian team. Source: buinesswire.com

When Lithuania's men's basketball team played at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, they did so with help from the Grateful Dead. The relationship with the long-running rock group was evident from the tie-dyed t-shirts team members wore when they weren't on the court, featuring the image of a slam-dunking skeleton. Why did the Dead step in to help a team from a former Soviet republic compete -- and win a bronze medal -- in the Olympics? Because freedom!

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Playing for something much bigger than themselves and basketball. (peanutsandpopcorn.wordpress)

The 1992 Olympic Games were dominated by an unprecedented collection of NBA legends. Previously, NBA players were barred from the Olympics but thanks to an embarrassing loss to the Soviet Union in 1988, various factions worked to change that. They formed the much-heralded, “Dream Team.”

However, in that same Olympics, another basketball “Dream Team” from Lithuania was fighting for something much bigger than sports. Lithuania had just gained its independence from the Soviet Union. It was the basketball-loving country’s first opportunity to represent itself on the international stage since 1939. This is the unlikely story of the Lithuanian men’s basketball team: an underdog squad of oppressed athletes that got an unlikely assist from the iconic Grateful Dead in their campaign for national pride.