How The Grateful Dead Formed A Groovy Partnership With Lithuania Basketball

What do Lithuania, basketball, and the Grateful Dead have in common? Well, if you know, you know. But if you don’t, it’s time for us to gather around for storytime. It all started when someone I coached with bought me an odd tie-dye shirt with a skeleton head dunking a basketball. The shirt also touted the word Lithuania. In a time of war, we could use some reprieve. Here’s my version of Lithuania’s 1992 Olympic Basketball Team. 

The How

How in the nebula did the Grateful Dead and Lithuania form a partnership?

Well, it all starts with a history lesson. 

In the year 1990, Lithuania liberated itself from the former Soviet Union.

However, due to their immediate sovereignty, the country was broke and did not have the funds to send their basketball team to the Olympics. 

“They were not financed at all, and they were real underdogs, and what was happening in their country was just terrible,” said former Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart.

Nevertheless, the Lithuanian team proved undeterred and planned to raise funds themselves.

But this is when universal flow intervened, and things got groovy. 

A Strange Smell

It all started when a Lithuanian ballplayer named Sarunas Marciulionis teamed with former NBA coach Don Nelson to raise money in the U.S. 

At the time, Marciulionis played for the Golden State Warriors, and Nelson was an assistant coach. 

I’m not sure exactly how the duo planned to raise funds, but a newspaper heard about the story and wrote an article highlighting their cause.

Shortly after, The Grateful Dead reached out to Nelson. 

“Dead members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh stated that not only were they huge proponents of freedom; they were also basketball fans and wanted to help.”

The band invited the duo to a show, and after, the two groups met backstage.

During the meeting, the Dead gave the pair enough funds to support Lithuania’s Olympic dreams. 

Marciulionis may not have understood the “strange smell” he encountered during the show, but he understood he was going to Barcelona.

The Results

One facet of this story that’s important to understand is that Lithuania was a talented team.

This isn’t a “Cool Runnings” type situation. 

Four of Lithuania’s players played for the 1988 gold medal-winning Soviet Union squad. A team that was good enough to defeat a U.S. squad led by David Robinson, Danny Manning, and Mitch Richmond. Albeit they weren’t pros at the time. 

So the talent was there, but this was the Lithuanian players’ first time representing their own country. 

And rep they did. 

They made it all the way to the semifinals before being routed by the original “Dream Team.”

But the loss proved unimportant because it actually set a bronze medal matchup between the Lithuanians and the Unified Team (de facto Soviet Union).

A team that Lithuania had already lost to in this tournament. 

The game was for the bronze medal, but really it was for the soul of Eastern Europe. 

In a nitty-gritty affair, the Lithuanians pulled out the W in the end, which is synonymous with more than my history knowledge can tell you. 

But the really cool ending to this story is that the bronze medal winners went to the podium with their “Grateful Dead” sponsored jerseys. Tie-die and all. 

It was a complete surprise because they did not wear them at any time during their games.

Thank you, Coach Kurt, for the shirt; you just taught me a really cool story. 

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About Nick Bartlett 200 Articles
My name is Nick Bartlett, and I am a Senior Writer at as well as a Senior Writer here at OregonSportsNews. My work has been featured in the Seattle PI, OregonLive, and various other publications. I've also served as a guest on Sirius XM radio as a "Pac-12 Football Insider" For business inquiries, you can reach me at - Email: Phone Number: 425-366-9711