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The Time the Grateful Dead Funded the Lithuania Basketball Team

The 1992 Lithuanian basketball team, wearing their Grateful Dead-inspired warmups.

The Grateful Dead were known for giving to charity via the Rex Foundation and their collaboration with the 1992 Lithuania Olympic basketball team was rooted in that charitable spirit. It also led to some really iconic artwork and merchandise, of which the Dead already have plenty.

The basic story is that the Grateful Dead donated money and warmup uniforms to the team, and also sold them to their fans, and even more people made knockoffs of them, and it became this big thing. These are the rasta-colored tie-dye shirts and shorts pictured above, which I’m sure you have seen around in the modern era as well. They were actually the official warmup uniforms for the team.

I get deeper into the backstory below.

How It Went Down

At this time, the Dead were at the peak of their fame following the 1987 release of “Touch of Grey”, and the basketball team in Lithuania was just starting to get off the ground. And they needed money, bad.

Prior to the 1992 Olypmics, Lithuania didn’t even have a basketball team, as they had been part of the Soviet Union before gaining their independence in 1990.

The whole idea to start this team came from Šarūnas Marčiulionis, the NBA player from Lithuania who played for the Golden State Warriors.

Marčiulionis needed to raise money to start this team, but he wasn’t having much luck finding donors. Eventually the Grateful Dead caught wind of this, and being big fans of the underdog, they sent a check to the team to fund their operation, and donated the red, yellow, and green tie-dye warmup uniforms.

Greg Speirs Designed the Warmups

The original warmups were designed by Greg Speirs, a NYC-based artist who says that he was inspired by the Grateful Dead and the yellow, green, and red colors of the Lithuanian flag. Greg was another major donor to the team, donating all of his profits from sales of the merchandise after the Olympics.

This, along with a few other donations allowed the Lithuanians to compete in the Olympics in 1992, and soon they were headed to Barcelona.

“They needed some help back in ’92,” Mickey Hart recalls in a 1996 CNN interview. “They were not financed at all, and they were real underdogs, and what was happening in their country was just terrible.”

Hart is referring the political turmoil that was going on in the country following the end of the cold war.

The uniforms were a hit, obviously, and even more so when the Lithuanians started to win. The team ended up taking the bronze medal in the 1992 Olympics.

Lithuania’s Grateful Dead-designed uniforms were in such high demand that the Golden State Warriors even started producing and selling some of them, and their phones were ringing off the hooks.

The Lithuanian basketball team accepting their bronze medals in 1992.

The Lithuanians Were Good, But USA Was Better

This happened to be the year that the USA had what was known as the Dream Team in the Olympics, which included Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and many more of the NBA’s greatest all-time players.

They beat everybody, including the Lithuanians, who beat out the Russians to win the bronze. Both USA winning the gold and Lithuania winning the bronze were huge.

Even if the Lithuanians couldn’t beat the USA, their team still made history for being a first-year team that had such a good run. They were a media sensation due to their flamboyant merchandise and people loved it.

There’s a movie about this now, called The Other Dream Team (2012), as that’s what the 1992 Lithuanian basketball team has become known as.

The Lithuanian basketball merchandise remains one of the most popular designs in the lineup of Grateful Dead t-shirts, mostly seen these days at music festivals and Grateful Dead or other jam band-related events.

You can find these shirts anywhere that Grateful Dead shirts are sold, but the legit ones seem to still be available via the official Skullman site, as of my revision of this piece in January 2024. The old website claims they have both leftover originals and reprints.

Otherwise, you can get them from Liquid Blue, or on lot.

Šarūnas Marčiulionis wearing the tie-dye uniform after a victory in the 1992 Olympics.