SI Vault
 
The Metaphysical Significance, Staggering Ubiquity and Sheer Joy of High Fives
CHRIS BALLARD
March 15, 2010
The low five, the high 10, the low 10, the forearm bash, the fist bump, the flying chest bump, the shug, the leaping shoulder carom, the ass slap, the pound, the man hug, the dap, the volleyballers' smack-'em high and smack-'em low, the gimme-skin slider, the helmet head butt, the soul shake, the body slam and the grip-and-rip
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
March 15, 2010

The Metaphysical Significance, Staggering Ubiquity And Sheer Joy Of High Fives

The low five, the high 10, the low 10, the forearm bash, the fist bump, the flying chest bump, the shug, the leaping shoulder carom, the ass slap, the pound, the man hug, the dap, the volleyballers' smack-'em high and smack-'em low, the gimme-skin slider, the helmet head butt, the soul shake, the body slam and the grip-and-rip

View CoverRead All Articles

Sometimes a man just can't contain himself: He has to celebrate. And for a certain type of man, that means rearing back, cocking his arm and unleashing a high five of resounding power, a high five that says, "Goddam, I'm excited about that which just occurred," a high five that in its very execution creates a vortex of enthusiasm into which everyone within its vicinity is sucked. It was this urge that took hold of Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie on the afternoon of Dec. 28, 2008. Sitting in a luxury box at Lincoln Financial Field, he leaped to his feet as, below him, the Eagles took a 24--3 lead against the Cowboys in the regular-season finale, a game that would determine which of the two teams went to the playoffs. Clearly, the moment called for punctuation. So after turning to his left and detonating two quick high fives upon a fellow blazer-wearing exec—Bam! Bam!—Lurie swiveled to his right, raised his arm and looked into the eyes of his wife, Christina, who'd borne him two children, who'd been there for him during 14 years at the helm of the franchise. Smiling broadly, she leaned in with her right hand raised as Lurie prepared to consummate a hand-smack of stupendous force.

And high-fived her right in the face.

The nose, to be exact. Still, no one outside the luxury box would have been the wiser had not a network television camera zoomed in on Lurie at that very moment. Which meant that within 24 hours one could find the slap looped and archived on YouTube, Lurie's palm forever dancing back and forth. In that moment Lurie learned what many others already knew: The high five isn't as easy as it looks.

Just ask Tiger Woods. Who can forget the 16th hole of the 2005 Masters? After holing a 30-foot chip shot, a feat that required world-class hand-eye coordination, Woods turned to his caddie and memorably whiffed on a high five, his hand diving past his partner's, two men stuck in the awkward middle between a hug and a handshake. There is a reason Tiger has since stuck to fist pumps.

What is it about the five and its innumerable permutations that grabs us so? After all, it is a simple act, one that many two-year-olds learn before they can talk, yet we relish it, embellish it, mock it and bungle it. From Borat's yelling, "High five!" to President George W. Bush's inexplicably chest-bumping an Air Force Academy graduate to the Obamas' much-discussed First Fist-Bump, we are a nation forever trying to find the right way to celebrate, and in no arena is the physical vocabulary richer than in sports. There is the low five, the high 10, the low 10, the fist bump, the bash, the shug, the flying chest bump, the helmet head butt, the ass slap, the pound, the man hug, the dap, the volleyballers' smack-'em high and smack-'em low, the gimme-skin slider, the soul shake, the leaping shoulder carom and, last but not least, the grip-and-rip.

All may be performed in a variety of ways, but in the end they say the same thing. "It shows your brotherhood out there," says Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups, a proponent of frequent, emphatic fiving. "It's beautiful, man. In a way, I think that's what this game is all about."

It began with Magic Johnson. Or Dusty Baker. Or perhaps a bunch of volleyball players. Which is to say that no one agrees upon the origin of high-fiving.

We do know how the handshake came to be, eons ago. It involved swords and knives and the lack thereof; by extending a bare hand, one told a fellow traveler that he was unarmed, that he was friendly. Centuries later, jazz musicians are said to have invented the hand slap, which in time led to the slap five favored by athletes because it could be done on the move. This in turn led to all manner of soul-shaking and finger-snapping. Finally, either in the 1960s (with those smack-happy volleyball players) or the late '70s (when Magic claims to have started the high five at Michigan State, and Dusty Baker hit a grand slam during a playoff game and purportedly greeted Dodgers teammate Glenn Burke with hand upraised), the high five.

Soon it was everywhere. Players on the 1979--80 Louisville basketball team broke out fives on national TV. NFL players began punctuating touchdowns with leaping renditions. Later in the decade Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco of the A's invented a move that in retrospect perfectly summed up the Steroid era: the forearm bash.

And now? Well, now the high five, delivered without irony, is often deemed the pinnacle of dorkdom, at least in the real world. Sure, there is a National High Five Day (the third Thursday of April) and a Guinness record for fives delivered in 24 hours (5,000, by Dubliner Michael Cotter last year, topping the 3,131 by Blake Rodgers, who stood outside a Dunkin' Donuts in Providence and let loose upon unsuspecting customers in 2008). But the guy at the office who rises up for a high 10 after the earnings report? That's a guy you don't want to hang with at happy hour.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5