The Time the Grateful Dead Funded the Lithuania Basketball Team
The Grateful Dead were known for giving to charity, as sharing with others was part of the core spirit of the band. In 1983 they even started their own charity called the Rex Foundation, which is still around today.
The Dead were big on giving money to the little guys, and for a time the Rex Foundation didn’t even accept applicants. They simply chose to donate money to deserving groups and individuals that they found out about while touring around.
These deserving causes included anything from helping the homeless, funding the arts, AIDs awareness, and of course, funding the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic Basketball team. The Dead donated money and warmup uniforms to the team and they were massively successful.
As we know, the Grateful Dead have some iconic artwork, and this is yet another example. You may have seen the modern knockoffs around, or perhaps even some originals.
They’re the rasta-colored tie-dye shirts with the skeleton ripping a heady dunk on the front, very popular among your modern day hippie kids, and most recently worn by Jonah Hill as he prepares to play Jerry Garcia in Martin Scorsese’s new Grateful Dead biopic.
Yes, you read that correctly. Though I’m sure you heard about that by now, or if you’re from the future then you’ve probably seen it already.
Anyway, the story involving the the Grateful Dead and Lithuania basketball goes way back to 1992.
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 ended up sending a check to the team, as well as donating some warmup uniforms for them.
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.”
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.
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 mopped 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 Dead & Co shows (and on Dead night at your local bar).
The original shirt was 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.
You can find these shirts anywhere that Grateful Dead shirts are sold, but connected to Greg’s site is the official Skullman site, which sells what they claim are originals still leftover, as well as reprints. Judging by the age of the website I’d say it’s legit, but do your own shopping.
You can check that out here.