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.
The teams that touch the most win the most.
The study didn't determine an outright link. It didn't go so far as to say that touch caused a team to win, but there seemed to be some correlation.
“Touch instills trust,” one of the researchers, Dacher Keltner, told ABC News at the time. “It contagiously spreads good will. It makes players play better on behalf of each other.”
If that's the case, the Thunder gets a jump on just about every team in the NBA. Most don't do anything more than slap hands or maybe exchange hugs before tipoff.
There were many times during the Western Conference Finals, for example, when the Spurs' starters were just standing around on the court waiting for tipoff while the Thunder finished its pregame antics.
The whole thing takes a couple minutes.
After the introductions are over, the reserves line the sideline from bench to midcourt line. Then, the starters make their way down the line. Once the starters are through the line, they do their routines with one another while the reserves head back toward the bench to finish theirs.
“It's second nature,” Ivey said. “You don't forget 'em. You don't even think about it. And the sequence, too. You go in the same order.”
You heard right — the Thunder does the whole thing the same way every game.
“You'll see guys wait,” Aldrich said. “Guys will say they're not really superstitious, but in a way, we are.”
Durant and Ivey changed up their routine earlier this season. They'd always done three hand slaps, then “Get 'em outta here” with their thumbs pointing over their shoulders, but for reasons they don't recall, they decided to go with something different.
“Then he said he didn't play good for two games, so we stopped doing it,” Ivey said. “Back to the original.”
Hey, whatever works.
And for the Thunder, doing some handshakes and having some fun seem to be working just fine.
“(Being in the playoffs is) serious,” Ivey said. “You've gotta stay loose.”
Durant said, “I look forward to 'em every game.”
Whatever you want to call them.