Dream Team 1935 to be screened at Gaŗezers in July

The film Sapņu komanda 1935 (Dream Team 1935) will be shown at the Latvian Center Gaŗezers on July 20th.  Directed by Aigars Grauba the film chronicles Latvia’s national basketball team, that improbably won the first European championship in May, 1935.  This first-time event was sponsored by the just formed International Basketball Federation, more commonly known as FIBA, from the French Fédération Internationale de Basket-ball and was held in Geneva, Switzerland.

Dream Team 1935 is heading toward being the most watched Latvian language film ever.  It has become a phenomenon and has been universally celebrated.  It will be screened for the European Parliament and at the Cannes Film Festival.  The film centers on the team, the championship and Head Coach Valdemārs Baumanis.

Baumanis will be returning to Gaŗezers twenty-one years after his death in 1992.  We need to wait to find out more about the team and the championship, however we already know quite a bit about the head coach.  His friends and colleagues in organized Latvian sports compiled a collection of essays about him after his death: Karavīrs un sportists Valdemārs Baumanis 1905 – 1992 (Soldier and Athlete …). I gained the most insight from Ilmārs Dumpis’ contribution. 

Baumanis arrived in Chicago in 1956 after having spent the immediate post-war years in France.  He was almost immediately selected to lead the Midwest region of the Latvian Sports Council and continued in that position for the next thirty-five years.  He simply had a burning passion for Latvian athletics and not just basketball. 

Scrolling through old editions of the Latvian Newspaper Laiks, it is obvious that he looked at Gaŗezers as fertile ground.  In 1969 he toured the Latvian Center with Jānis Lindmanis from Australia.  Lindmanis, also known as “Kapteinis Džeks” (Captain Jack) was a star of Latvia’s 1935 basketball championship team.  There was talk that the administration of Gaŗezers was committed to developing a sports infrastructure, including a basketball court and Baumanis had plans. He is associated with all the early tournaments in volleyball, basketball, tennis, soccer and track and field.

Dream Team 1935 is a very Latvian story, which means it’s complicated and has an overabundance of drama. For Baumanis this meant that getting to Geneva was a larger hurdle than winning in Geneva.  He had to navigate all sorts of obstacles, mostly due to friction between the Army Sports Club and the University of Latvia.  Unbelievably, he was removed as head coach after Geneva.  I guess the sports establishment wanted to go in a different direction, which they succeeded in doing.  Baumanis made it to the 1936 Olympics, but as a referee.  The team from Latvia was eliminated early with a record of 1-2.  He returned to lead the national team in 1938, but by that time Lindmanis had given up basketball and devoted himself exclusively to soccer.

Baumanis personal story is a very Latvian story, which means Soviet occupation and World War II brutally changed everything.  He was back on top in 1938 and a year later attended basketball seminars at Long Island University in New York.  He wanted to better understand the American style of play.  He was an active duty army officer when the Soviets invaded.  Fortunately, he was able to avoid arrest.  Baumanis served in the German-formed Latvian Legion.  He led a supply unit and rose to the rank of Major. At the end of the war he successfully insured that his men avoided capture by the Red Army and gladly surrendered to U.S. forces. 

Baumanis joined the Daugavas vanagi veteran’s organization in 1947.  At the first opportunity he organized basketball and soccer tournaments in displaced person camps in Germany.  He formed a Latvian team that toured post-war France.  The French were impressed and this led to his accepting an offer to coach basketball in Lorient. 

Ilmārs Dumpis notes that the shadow of occupied Latvia weighed heavily on Baumanis.  Word circled back to Baumanis that he was given a death sentence, in absentia by the Soviets in 1946.  He chose to avoid any contact with relatives or friends and never responded to their letters, as he was concerned that this could only cause them complications. 

The film will be shown in Latvian, with English subtitles. 



Artis Inka is editor of the Chicago-area Latvian website, cikaga.com. Latvia's Defense Ministry in 2005 awarded him its Commemorative NATO Membership Medal.

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