Grateful Lithuanian team remembers its sponsors
July 26, 1996
Web posted at: 1:20 a.m. EDT (0520 GMT)
From Corespondent Paul Vercammen
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Who would have guessed when the Lithuanian basketball team and the Grateful Dead joined forces that they'd be such a great match? Although the team and its supporters and the band and its legion of fans are a world apart, they are wearing the same colors again during the Centennial Olympic Games.
The Lithuanian team's tie-dyed shirts, caps and pins are among the most popular souvenirs in Atlanta, according to vendors, who say sales have been strong ever since the Opening Ceremonies. Their win in double overtime Saturday against Croatia didn't hurt sales, either.
Lithuania started sporting the psychedelic garb back in 1992, when the Dead sponsored the team for the Barcelona Games. The Lithuanians were celebrating their new independence from the former Soviet Union. But because they were liberated, they were also flat broke.
"They needed some help back in '92. 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.
Thanks in part to the band's help, the Lithuanians took home the bronze medal in 1992. They do not wear the tie-dyed clothing during their games, but they did spring a surprise during the Barcelona medal ceremony, going up to the awards podium in head-to-toe tie-dyed clothes.
"It was really wonderful," Hart said.
The tradition continues, even after the death of the Dead's Jerry Garcia. "It's a great pleasure to be hooked up with a group and traditions like the Grateful Dead," said Arturas Karnisovas, a member of the Lithuanian basketball team.
Sales of this tie-dyed garb not only help the team, but also children's charities in Lithuania. Hobbled Lithuanian star Sarunas Marciulionis, now of the NBA's Denver Nuggets, believes the shirts are like goodwill ambassadors.
"Maybe we'll get some investor and tourists, and people who want to know about the history of Lithuania and the situation in Lithuania more," Marciulionis suggested.
Marciulionis developed a relationship with the Grateful Dead while playing for the Golden State Warriors in the Dead's San Francisco Bay area backyard. Now, the Lithuanian team says the band is becoming popular in their homeland.
"Now there's a lot of fans for the Grateful Dead in Lithuania and since the shirts are out, I think maybe there are going to be a lot of other people who want to listen to their music," Karnisovas said.
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