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NBA Finals: Thunder's pregame rituals big part of team unity

Jenni Carlson: All that hand-slapping and hugging might look random, but there's a method to it as well.
by Jenni Carlson Published: June 16, 2012

You could call them handshakes, but that really doesn't do them justice.

What the Thunder players do before every game — in the minute or two after the introductions but before the tipoff — is part choreography, part ritual, part circus. There is hand slapping and chest bumping, kicking and dancing, flexing and hugging.

Even the guys in the middle of it aren't sure what to call it.

Still, they know what it is — fun.

“We're out there having fun,” veteran reserve and handshake ringleader Royal Ivey said. “That's our fun time. But after that's done, it's business.”

The Thunder has definitely taken care of its business on the court, dispatching of the Mavs, the Lakers and the Spurs on a run to the NBA Finals. But there is no doubt, what this team does in those moments before tipoff is an outward sign of some inward characteristics.

The teamwork? The sacrifice? The energy?

All of those things you see on the court during games are more easily understood when you watch these guys handshaking and hugging. You can see that they like each other. You can tell that they enjoy being around each other.

That sort of unity can come in handy when you're trying to beat back the bullies of the Western Conference.

“That stuff that we do before the game is just us connecting with everybody on the team before we go out there on the floor,” Thunder forward Kevin Durant said. “It's kind of like our special time between everybody.

“I really didn't think anybody would catch on to see what we were doing.”

Um, it's a little hard to miss.

I mean, these guys would give the softball players and the choreographed celebrations at the Women's College World Series a run for their money.

So, how did all of this get started?

None of the Thunder players are totally sure, though reserve big man and bench cheerleader Cole Aldrich traces it back to last season. At the beginning of the season, guys were starting to do some fun handshakes.

Then, the team acquired Nate Robinson in a midseason trade.

“I think Nate may have helped it evolve a little bit,” Aldrich said, chuckling. “He brought it a little more to a show level.”

Known for abundant energy and enthusiasm, Robinson wanted to do something with each teammate. And it had to be different. And smooth. And fun.

Soon, everyone was following his lead.

Now, the Thunder has a routine that follows the same script every game.

Truth is, all the hand slapping and bear hugging might actually be good for the Thunder. A couple years ago, some researchers from Cal-Berkley reviewed 90 hours of NBA play. They watched video of every team, and they logged 15 types of touch between teammates, hugs and high-fives, chest bumps and fist bumps among them.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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