Though baseball is the de facto national sport of Cuba, the country’s leader Fidel Castro was a passionate player of a different game: basketball.
The 6-foot-3-inch future dictator was a fiercely competitive player during his high school years at El Colegio de Beléna in Havana, devoting more of his energies to basketball, baseball, track and field and table tennis than to academic pursuits. Castro relished sports as a chance to show off his athletic prowess and demonstrate that he could excel at anything, a habit he continued after taking control of the country in 1959.
Fidel never hesitated to organize a game. Players would then divide into two teams: the reds and the blues. Obviously everyone played “for” Fidel — it was out of the question for him to lose a game.
In addition to being an ideal avenue for displaying his slick ball-handling skills, Castro also believed basketball had powerful symbolism and even training value for young revolutionaries.
The game, Castro said, requires speed, agility and stamina, as well as cunning, lightning-quick tactics and strategic thinking — exactly like guerrilla warfare.
Castro continued balling with regularity in private and during state visits around the world. He finally gave up the game in 1982, at the age of 56, after he broke a toe defending his territory in a particularly heated match.