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Former basketball champ to slam dunk into European Parliament

Sarunas Marciulionis

By Angele Kedatiene

The news that famous basketball player Sarunas Marciulionis has decided to run for the European elections with Greens and Peasantries Union has made waves in Lithuania.

Marciulionis is a highly respected person in Lithuania and elsewhere, never limiting himself just to sport.  He is Olympic Champion of the Seoul 1988 games, the first European becoming part of NBA, and with the basketball team of independent Lithuania he has won bronze medals at the Barcelona and Atlanta Olympic games, and silver in the European championship. He has been the first President of the Lithuanian basketball association, campaigning successfully for the European basketball championship of 2011 to take place in Lithuania.

Sarunas Marciulionis, who together with some other Lithuanian basketball players, has started his career in the Soviet basketball team, remembers well one game of 1986 in San Diego, when on the tribunes of sport hall, he saw one Lithuanian family with the national flag, so-called trispalve. Although the Soviet team manager has warned him not to approach the family, he did it, while afterwards receiving the warning about a possible end of career.   Other repressions have followed. During the Seoul Olympic Games of 1988, when the Soviet team won the gold, Marciulionis was named as the best player. But his Soviet career was not that simple, he was forced to read a prepared speech in 1988 in Vilnius, and omit from his resume that his family members were deported to Siberia. It had been made clear to him that he risked not to play further, and not be allowed to travel abroad.

Later, after the independence, while playing at NBA, received the Lithuanian diplomatic rank of minister, in order to help his country through so-called basketball diplomacy.  He has met a number of Congress members, including Jon Simkus, who is of Lithuanian origin. He has helped to organise the visit of the President George W. Bush to Lithuania, the only US President yet who has visited Lithuania. He has participated in meetings organised by Julie Finley, the representative of President Bush for European affairs, and had his say in discussions on the role of Lithuania in the European Union.

In a recent interview to 15Minutes media, Marciulionis mentioned that a number of his colleagues across the Atlantic have congratulated him for deciding to run for the European Parliament.

Marciulionis expresses the hope that his vast international experience would help him be heard in Brussels, which he say is important in the context of the challenges of the EU, faced with nationalist and populist parties. He sees his future work in the area of health and sports, also international relations, especially with the US. 

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