The sore winner

Can you palm a basketball?

“Agog.” That was the answer to the crossword puzzle clue. I forget the exact clue, but the answer was “agog.” Doing the crossword puzzle this morning and seeing the answer “agog” reminded me of my Marine Corps colleague and friend who convinced me to help him complete his crossword puzzle. He assumed I would be helpful since he always saw me reading. Occasionally, he would ask me what I was reading, but I never actually saw him reading a book. Anyway, whenever he saw a crossword puzzle, he looked at it as a challenge. Once he started, he was determined to complete it! When he was stumped, he would ask me for help. I actually don’t remember whether or not I was helpful.

Michael (not his actual name, or maybe it is, but I don’t really remember) was from New York. “Queens!” he would say proudly. In the Marines, we got into a lot of fights because of all of our pent-up energy and competitiveness during a peacetime enlistment after the Vietnam era. Before actually fighting, we would size up our foe by investigating each other’s pugilistic background during the prefight phase known as “selling of wolf tickets.” The first time we met, we almost got into a fight. He shouted that he was from Queens and I shouted that I was from the south side of Chicago. Usually, if a Marine said he was from New York, that meant he was from upstate New York, therefore, he couldn’t fight very well. However, if a Marine said he was from Brooklyn, Flatbush, Harlem, or Queens, like Michael, I would reconsider not fighting. So, we both considered our newly acquired knowledge and decided not to fight each other. In fact, we soon became good friends.

Michael was very competitive. No matter what anyone said, for example, “I ran two miles today,” he would counter with either, “I ran three!” or “I run a lot faster than you!” One day, during our lunchtime basketball pickup game, I told another of our fellow Marines, Mario, that he was very fast on the court. Not only that, but he could also palm the ball and dunk the ball even though he was only five foot eight.

Anyway, when Michael heard me praise Mario’s speed, Michael immediately said, “But I’m faster!” Michael was also fast. In fact, both Mario and Michael were fast, and both were faster than me, so I admired how they sped from one end of the court to the other. Mario took offense to Michael’s boast. From our experience of playing basketball together for months, I was very sure that Mario was faster.

Michael took offense to the fact that Mario took offense to Michael’s boast. So, Michael challenged him to a race, one on one. They would race each other from one end of the court to the other and then return. The first one back to the starting line would be the winner. Just to be fair, I would be the starter.
They both lined up behind the baseline and waited for me to say, “On your marks. Get set. Go!” And they took off. Mario reached the opposite baseline first by a lot. Michael sped up and the way back and closed the gap somewhat, but he still lost. Of course, Michael was disappointed to lose to Mario because of their ongoing rivalry over everything. He was a sore loser.

Michael said that Mario had not clearly crossed the opposite baseline when he clearly did. We all said that Mario had crossed the baseline. Michael insisted that Mario had not. Michael insisted on a rematch. Mario accepted the challenge just to humor Michael and quiet him down after he kept insisting that Mario cheated.
For the rematch, Michael said that each runner had to run to the opposite baseline, touch the basketball net pole, and then run back. Once again, I was the starter. This time, Michael started off a little faster, and Mario ran just fast enough to stay ahead of Michael. Mario touched the pole and ran back always keeping enough distance to prevent Michael from winning.

Of course, Michael was not happy by his loss. Especially after Mario said, “Cheater’s proof! See I won the first time, too!” He accused Mario of cheating when clearly, he didn’t. Mario was just that much faster than Michael, who kept hemming and hawing for a few minutes.

Finally, Michael said to Mario, “You cheated! Let’s have another race. This time, you have to run around the pole, touch the pole, and then run back.” Mario refused the challenge at first, but then Michael kept needling Mario who wouldn’t accept the challenge because Michael was really faster. So, Mario accepted the challenge just to shut Michael up.

They both lined up the baseline again. Once again, I was the starter. This time, Michael had his best start. He was way ahead of Mario, but Mario caught up to him and stayed slightly behind him. They both went around the pole and tagged it as they ran back. Michael maintained his lead all the way to the finish, but we could all tell that Mario was letting Michael win. We didn’t say anything because we were all hoping we could get back to our basketball game.

“I won! I’m faster than you!” Michael told Mario. We all smiled knowingly to each other. Soon, Michael said, “I won! But Mario cheated! He didn’t touch the pole when we went around!” We all said that Mario had, in fact, slapped the pole so hard that it made a sound.

Michael was still grumbling about his victory. He may have even suspected that Mario let him win. Mario finally said, “Stop your complaining! You won! Okay?”