Sometimes a small nugget of knowledge rises to the top of the internet sludge pile, and today that nugget is the story of the Grateful Dead’s place in Lithuanian sports history.
For those unfamiliar with the tale of the 1992 Olympic Lithuanian team, I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. The story goes that in 1991, the new nation of Lithuania (who had just emerged from a 50-year USSR rule) were desperately looking for funds to send their men’s basketball team to the ’92 Barcelona Olympics.
After being freed from the Soviet bloc, Lithuania had a renewed sense of freedom but no money to scrape together for sending their basketball team to the Olympics. And that’s where the Grateful Dead come in.
After seeing a profile of the team’s fundraising efforts in an article for the San Francisco Chronicle, Grateful Dead’s PR manager Dennis McNally showed the band, who decided that this was something forking out for.
Jerry Garcia and his merry band of madmen decided to foot the bill for Lithuania’s Olympic conquest, sending them all the funds they needed plus a huge box of now highly-coveted tie-dye shirts and shorts, created by the band’s own designer. The tees featured a dunking skeleton on a tie-dye print in Lithuania’s national colours of red, yellow and green, and are as insane and great as they sound.
The story could’ve ended there and it’d still be one for the record books, but it gets better. The Lithuanian team heads to Barcelona, and they’ve got the kind of fire in the belly that can only be lit by the liberation from a five-decade Soviet rule. The team was stacked with incredible players (many of whom had played in the NBA and had won medals for the USSR at past Olympics) and they were finally playing for their own flag.
After being defeated by the US Dream Team—made up of the Jordan, Scotty Pippen, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson, I could go on but you’ve watched The Last Dance—they, of course, went up against Russia for the bronze medal playoffs. And, because you’ve already read the title of this article, you already know they beat their former countrymen by just four points with a final score of 82-78 to take out the bronze medal.
The entire team got up on the dais and accepted their medals clad in their benefactors’ eye-popping tie-dye tees, making them one of the most talked-about and coveted pieces of merch at the games. Look, here’s Mike with one:
In the years, since, the ’92 Grateful Dead x Lithuania Olympic team dunking skeleton tees have become a collector’s item, and probably even more so after Jonah Hill was spotted repping one a couple years back.
So there you have it. A rad story about how a mega rock band helped some basketballers on the other side of the globe get the chance to win bronze at the Olympics. Doesn’t get much better than that.