Love For The Game

I take bets with my best friend on professional fights. We never bet with money and we never collect. We bet food, and depending upon the odds or the fighter, our bets range from classic favorite sandwiches, to hotdogs with unlimited toppings.
The bets swing from simple chicken dishes to, to fish or sushi rolls, and on occasion, we will go as far as surf and turf. And after each bout, we talk about the fight and meeting up to settle our debts.

We lost track of who owes what a long time ago—but the bets continue and the meals we wager have become more extravagant. I don’t mind that we lost track. I don’t mind because I’m not looking to collect anything.
I view these bets as a way to break the stress of life. I see them as a perfect opportunity to speak about anything other than bills or common struggles. These bets are an outlet. They are a connection to a person I have chosen as a brother rather than inherited as family.

I love the fight game. I always have . . .

There is a story I once wrote about a father and his son. The father was very athletic. He was not overly tall; however, he was excellent on the basketball court. The son enjoyed the sport as well, and when he was old enough, the father taught his boy how to play. He showed him how to dribble. He taught him how to pass and how to shoot.

The father worked with his boy until his son was old enough to play and fully understand the fundamentals of the game. Eventually, the boy began to practice by himself on a basketball hoop, which his father hung above the garage in the driveway at the side of their Long Island home.
He practiced with confidence, and whenever he could, the young boy would challenge his father to a game of one on one.
Of course, the father accepted but the boy was no match. They never kept score in any of their games. They just played. There was no winner or loser. But there was always some playful trash talk—because trash talk often makes the game more interesting.

There were never any hard feelings and there were never any cheap shots. There was, however, a great deal of sportsmanship. As the boy grew it became easier for him to score. He never outscored his father but his shots gained accuracy.

The boy played basketball for his middle school. He played in high school and he played very well. He played so well, in fact, that the son was nearly able to beat his father.

Years added and the boy grew into a man. He went off to college on an academic scholarship. He was too short for college ball, but that did not change his love for the game. He still played basketball with his friends, and whenever he visited home, he was always welcomed with a game between himself and his father.

As years passed, the father aged. He still played very well—but he was slower than his son. They still never kept score. They just played, and as age crept its way in, the son began to outscore his father.

One afternoon after a long game, the son’s fiancé came to the house. She kissed her fiancé and said hello to her overly sweating and smiling soon-to-be father-in-law.

“Looking good,” she said.
Wiping his face with a towel and drinking from a cold, sweating water bottle, the father thanked her. He said, “I’m going to leave you two and see what your mother has planned for supper.”
Then the father looked to his son. He nodded, “Good game, kid. But you’re mine next time!”

When he walked inside, the young girl asked her fiancé, “What was the score?”
“We never keep score,” he said.
“We just play.”
“Why don’t you keep score?” she asked.
“I mean, how else are you going to know who won?”

“We never kept score when he used to beat me,” explained the young man.
“And he used to beat me bad . . . I mean, really bad. I couldn’t even get a shot off, but he never put me down. He just kept pushing me, you know? He kept making me shoot and try for another basket. He never rubbed it in my face when he scored. We just played.”

The young woman handed her fiancé  a towel to wipe the sweat that dribbled down from his forehead.
Admiring him, she teased, “It sure looks like you can beat him now.”

“But I don’t want to beat him.” said the young man.
“I just want to play.” He told her.
“To me, the score is just a distraction. And besides, my father never kept score when he could beat me, so why would I want to keep score now that I can beat him?”

“I just want to play ball with my dad,” he smiled.
“And I like that we never keep score,” said the son.
“It makes me feel like there will always be a next time.”

. . . . My friend and I lose track over our bets because we know the bets are unimportant. We keep our friendly competition healthy to keep our friendship healthy, and we keep our friendship healthy because we both know that true friendships are hard to find.

By the way, there’s a big fight this weekend.
My friend took the underdog so the pot is my choice of chicken or fish to his steak dinner. He even chose the win by a second round knockout as a teaser, and if he’s right, I need to throw in a Brazilian lobster tail.

But I don’t mind. Win or lose,
I know I can cover this bet.
And even if I can’t, at least I know there will be a next time.

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