Issue 58: Give ‘Em a Hand 🤝 The NBA’s Greatest Handshakes

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One of the more overlooked parts of any basketball game is the extensive handshakes players have with each other. You’ll primarily see this at the start of the game, during the team introductions. Certain players have combos with each other; others just have their own unique flair that they’ll do with anyone in range.

I have some experience with this myself, in fact. I’ve got a handshake I do with close friends and family — I’ll teach it to you sometime — and I ended up in the “handshake” role on my high school basketball team.

There was another player on the team that did this originally, but he quit over something unrelated, and because I’m so charming, I got thrust into the role. So I took my post at the end of the line, and the starters would run through the rest of the players en route to a handshake with me.

Could I tell you how any of those handshakes went today? Certainly not. But at the time? I had a solid seven or eight memorized, since we’d rotate who took the floor. And on occasions when I started, I made sure I had my own special handshake, too.

I doubt most people in the stands could even see what was happening, but it’s as much a part of the game as a free throw or dunk.

And there have been some spectacular ones over the course of NBA history. Let’s look at a few of the top handshakes.

Russell Westbrook and Cameron Payne

I remember first seeing these two do a handshake many years ago. Westbrook has now been on two other teams since his Thunder days, and Payne has played in fewer than 200 games since entering the league.

But they had some darn enjoyable pregame routines, primarily a mix of original and popular dance moves, ranging from dabs to slides and some nice two-stepping.

My favorite in this video is around the 33-second mark. For whatever reason, that handshake is taking place in the middle of the layup line for the opposing team. It’s the most complicated and involves Westbrook angrily moving people out of the way so he can keep up with Payne. That’s a level of commitment I appreciate.

The running in place and raising the roof combo 55 seconds in is also highly enjoyable. Find you someone that will shake your hand with as much vigor and joy as these two.

LeBron James and Basically Any Teammate

LeBron James certainly has a lot of detractors (still, somehow) despite being arguably the greatest player to ever step on a basketball court.

And though I’ve heard people point to his NBA Finals record or say he complains about fouls too much, even LeBron’s haters have to acknowledge — he’s got some terrific handshakes.

He seems to have unique ones regardless of where he goes, and he keeps them fresh, too. Sometimes he’s acting like he’s done before coming back for more (like with Delonte West in the above video). Sometimes he’s snapping photos. And sometimes he’s shadow boxing with Dwyane Wade.

But what he’s always doing is looking like he’s having a delightful time.

DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen

I’m putting this in here even though Jordan basically took Allen’s job after the Nets traded the latter to acquire James Harden. DJ probably had no say in that, but I’m sad that this is no longer a pre-game tradition.

Much like my teammates and me in high school, Jordan has a different handshake for every player in the starting lineup. I do enjoy Spencer Didwiddie’s mild look of annoyance when Jordan stops him before allowing him to proceed, but my favorite of the bunch is Allen.

As you can tell in this video, Jarrett Allen has a lot of hair. Jordan inspects his fellow center’s head and then says “go forth, young one” (but, you know, without actually saying it). The little nod of approval from both parties is a nice touch, too.

Kevin Love and Wesley Johnson

Back in his early Timberwolves days, Kevin Love worked hard to get an offensive rebound and was rewarded by being fouled and earning a trip to the free-throw line.

His teammate Wesley Johnson, then a rookie, tried to show he appreciated the effort, but he didn’t want to actually make any effort to do so.

The end result: an incredibly awkward high-five/handshake hybrid that saw Love literally chasing Johnson down to make sure their fingers connected.

To his credit, Love took this in stride, comparing the bad handshake to peeing the bed in an NBA investigation. Johnson is here, too, as are current Cleveland Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff, former guard Johnny Flynn and late Timberwolves broadcaster Tom Hanneman.

I’m just so happy they got half a dozen people to participate in an expose on basically just a miscommunicated handshake.

Gary Neal and the Air

Shooting free throws is all about routine. Part of that routine? High-fiving your teammates in between the first and second free throws.

I don’t know why Gary Neal is shooting a technical foul here, but he is, which means he’s the only person at the free throw line. And he’s also taking just one shot, not two.

But that didn’t stop him from acting like he was high fiving his teammates. Practice makes perfect, after all.

If you need some more guidance to developing your own handshake, this guide from Fatherly is a great place to start.

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Other Reads and Watches

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LeBron James’s 35,000th Point

10 years ago today, Blake Griffin jumped over a Kia to win the Slam Dunk Contest

That’s all ’til next time. Thanks for reading!


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