Before the Oklahoma City Thunder can tip-off and start flying up and down a basketball court, they have to get ready. I’m not talking about pregame speeches, stretches or warmups.
I’m talking about their intricate, developed, extravagant pregame routine.
Professional athletes are strange creatures. They live in a world where thousands of people pay to watch them do their job, a job in which they’re paid millions of dollars to do. They travel all over the world playing this game, they build incredible relationships with teammates and live in a daily grind and routine.
They’re weird. They know it too. And so they embrace it, accept it and come up with strange handshakes, routines and rituals along the way. I’m not saying the Thunder’s is the best. But the fact it seems to be such an important part, speaks to the chemistry of this group. Other teams give some quick high-fives and handshakes and walk out onto the floor. The Thunder go through a handshake assembly line.
(An aside, of one of my favorite moments from last season: During Nate Robinson’s second game with the team, I actually saw him standing at mid-court practicing his handshake for KD by himself. It was hilarious.)
It goes like this, because the video I put up there really doesn’t capture it all. The starting lineups go through, the Thunder huddle briefly by the bench and then the bench mob seriously forms a line. Cole Aldrich spends his time waiting on his handshakes by jumping into whoever is next to him. (It used to be Ryan Reid — RIP.) James Harden, Eric Maynor and Daequan Cook gather and yell in unison. Russell Westbrook skips through, slaps some chalk on his hands and then does this finger gunz thing at the crowd. And the best part: An usher pops off a some streamers when he does it, which is super cool.
KD follows behind, doing handshakes with the assembly line. He licks his fingers, fistbumps the scorers table as his puts his feet on it to untie and re-tie each shoe. Then he stomps on the sticky pad thing at mid-court while saying a prayer. He crosses himself, points to the sky, taps his chest (which has his grandma and mom’s names tattooed there), taps his back (which has Maryland tattooed there), points to the crowd and then points to the seats where his mom and grandma sit. Then he grabs Serge Ibaka and they say things to each other, which typically consists of Ibaka repeating “Lezzgo, lezzgo, lezzgo.”
Perk goes through the line — jersey always untucked — and gets a hug and does a thing with Royal Ivey. But my favorite thing is that Perk MUST give a fistbump to every Thunder official at the scorekeeper’s table (though I acknowledge he didn’t do it in the second video — I think I missed it). Like I’ve seen him stop and wait for one if they have their head down. He can’t play unless he gets that fistbump.
After that, it’s about the niceties of shaking opponents’ hands, Ibaka sniffing the ball and then it’s game on.
Between this and every player’s middle name, you’re completely set for the rest of the season on things you need to know.