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'I Have To Open People's Eyes'
Alexander Wolff
November 09, 1992
Sarunas Marciulionis of Lithuania brings the same fire to striving for prosperity for his homeland as he does to playing for the Warriors
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November 09, 1992

'i Have To Open People's Eyes'

Sarunas Marciulionis of Lithuania brings the same fire to striving for prosperity for his homeland as he does to playing for the Warriors

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It's a mystery why Lithuanians carp at Marciulionis and spare Sabonis, Lithuania's other world-renowned millionaire basketball player and a star in the Spanish League, who isn't near the philanthropist Marciulionis is. Sabonis blew off the medal ceremony in Barcelona—"I was too drunk," he explained—and the Lithuanian people blithely forgave him. It may be a simple matter of Sabonis's stature, mythical as well as physical, exempting him from the standards people seem so eager to apply to his smaller countryman. But shouldn't Marciulionis be just as mythical a figure? Shouldn't there be a place in the folklore for Sarunas the Warrior, heir and namesake to Sarunas the warrior?

The shoulders alone merit the place. They seem broad enough to assume the weight of all that he takes on, yet they slope so sharply that one can imagine things forever being at metaphorical risk of rolling off them. Marciulionis says he's not a religious person, so there must still be a fair amount of the old regime's quixotic ideal of social equality rattling around in him—how else to explain his sense of obligation? But there's enough Ayn Rand at his core that he believes it's his duty to step in and do. Atlas-like, what an entire state once did.

And so, to him, it rankles that cab drivers in his country make more than surgeons, that gestures of kindness (and not merely his own) are met with suspicion, that one man's success begets another's jealousy. This is "antilogic," he says. "The Baltic Road show of unity [the 1990 human chain that stretched across the Baltic states] was a great example of people working together. I cried when I saw that, people linking hands from Vilnius to Riga to Tallinn.

"You see, people stay together when they face a really dangerous situation. But right now we are fighting over small things, just killing each other over them. I can't understand how a nation can be so strong in the face of danger and so weak in times of peace."

He joked that "challenge" is his middle name, after telling you earnestly that Sarunas is. Yet, in a sense both are at his core, the goal and the warrior. They coexist unstably, fuel for some perpetual internal-combustion reaction that animates him, moves him forward all the time. Is something analogical? Is some wrong in need of setting right? Surely there's an explanation up ahead; surely there's a solution, if only you drive, drive to the goal.

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