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How would Cultural Icon & Political Revolutionary Che Play Pickleball?

Che Guevara was a Renaissance man in his own right; here’s where pickleball fits in

TUNDRA Op-Ed Contributor: Elliot Rothstein, UMich Freshman
March 21 2024

Argentine Marxist revolutionary, leader of the Cuban Revolution & cultural icon Ernesto “Che” Guevara

Over the past month, a new bit of funny trivia has come to light within basketball-fan circles on social media: the discovery that Argentinian political activist Che Guevara, an icon of the ‘50s Cuban Revolution, would comment on fellow revolutionary Fidel Castro’s hooping tendencies in his journal. According to, Guevara wrote the following in his journal on December 12th, 1962:

“In his frequent basketball matches, Fidel has started using a new move he simply calls ‘The Step.’ It is undeniably effective, yet is its goodness equally undeniable? As revolutionaries we must not merely pay attention to ends, but to means. I worry that this flash and pomp is not befitting of the revolutionary leader. It serves to separate him too much from those caught in the chains of a maudlin life, marred by oppression and economic strife. Yes, it leads to a basket, but at what cost to the communal spirit?”

Castro (left) attempting his signature “step.”     SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES

Upon reading, the entry immediately comes off as amusing. Very scarcely (if ever) has sports analysis integrated political-social scrutiny–Che (and others like him) are known for important, fulfilling work, like fighting for rights and standing in the face of oppression and whatnot. Even if there had been a demand for this unconventional way of analyzing sports, the people who it would’ve suited well were too busy seeking justice to nerd out over some game. In essence, we theoretically could have seen more politically charged sports analysis if those with the perspectives to do so hadn’t been engaged in more pressing endeavors.

Well, that ends here. I’m here to don my political philosopher hat and analyze the game of pickleball as Che would have, and with that I pose: It (the dink) is undeniably effective, yet is its goodness equally undeniable?

Guevara drops some clues in his journal entry that can help us determine how he’d judge the dink as a pickleball move, among others. Firstly, we can infer some things from his judgment of Castro’s “The Step,” which in the modern era is referenced as a “Euro-step” (pictured above). Guevara sees the move as “undeniably effective” but worries “that this flash and pomp is not benefitting of the revolutionary leader.” This would seem to indicate that Che doesn’t necessarily have an issue with the effectiveness of the move, but rather the fact that it lends itself to a flashier playstyle. 

Che Guevara: A man of the people.     SOURCE: GOOGLE 

Che Moves, Che Moves… 

Why is Che anti-fun on the court? Well, the next line in Che’s journal (“It serves to separate him too much from those caught in the chains of a maudlin life, marred by oppression and economic strife”) gives some reasoning. The Euro-step and other flashy moves, to Che, showed too little respect to those around NOT incorporating flashy moves–this wasn’t because the Euro-step personally disrespected any of the other non-stepping players around, but rather because it disregarded any solidarity with those “marred by oppression and economic strife.” In the societies Che attempted to aid, he would stand solidly with the oppressed, poorer side against the elite, oppressive class–a class that could flaunt its flashy luxuries and expensive purchases. Castro’s flashier playstyle, in Che’s mind, aligned Castro’s basketball interests with those of the elites’ societal interests. The higher-scoring teams likely built with stronger, taller, more talented athletes (the team “born well-off” in a sense) are freely able to try out their flashy euro-steps from ahead while the underdogs are forced to grit it out, focus, and practice the fundamentals to claw their way back. Che may not have been attacking Castro at all as a hooper, but instead felt his game contrasted his position as a revolutionary against the elite.

Innovator, PhD, builder, fisherman, philosopher     SOURCE: GOOGLE

With that said, how would Che judge certain pickleball “moves?” As for the dink, I think that one he’d be cool with–he’d see the move’s goodness with equal undeniability as its effectiveness. It’s effective, not flashy, and something implemented by both sides, no matter if they’re ahead or behind. Serves, drives, third-shot drops, and traditional smashes I imagine would also fall in this inoffensive-to-Che category.

What “moves” would Che have a problem with? “Speed-ups” at the net fall in unclear territory, but I’d imagine they wouldn’t stand too much in the face of the communal spirit; while a favorite team ahead by a lot (the elite) might be more willing to take risks at the net (like a speed-up), it’s just as likely that the underdog team (the people) try the same move out of desperation or a need to change strategy.

Clearly a sportsman at heart…     SOURCE: GOOGLE

The two moves I imagine Che could take issue with are the lob and the ATP. The lob can be an effective move, but when compared to the third-shot drop or dink (the fundamental shots typically used in scenarios in which a lob might be attempted), the lob is much less consistent, riskier, and flashier. No one down 2-9 is going to start sending over sky shots–if you’re up 9-2, why not?       

Finally, the ATP. This at first seems like a no-brainer; I mean, what gets flashier or riskier than trying to bend a shot around the post? I’d argue, however, that the circumstantial aspect to hitting an ATP could be its revolution-solidarity saving grace. The favorite team can’t simply go for ATPs whenever just because they have the freedom to do so, while they could so with the lob. There are only certain circumstances where an ATP can be implemented, and those guidelines apply fairly equally to both sides. It is true, however, that a favorite team up by a lot might attempt to ATP from some more daring angles than an underdog team would even consider.

I now turn this philosophical question to you, reader: Yes, the ATP leads to a point, but at what cost to the communal spirit?



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