What makes the NBA so freaking great—aside from the Golden State Warriors chasing the Chicago Bulls’ 72-10 record, Russell Westbrook dunking so hard the Earth shatters, and LeBron James leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Promised Land—are the things that happen around and off the court. From fashion statements by the players as they enter the arena to video bombing post-game interviews, NBA players are a different, amazing breed, and the vibrance they bring to the game with their personalities puts professional basketball on a level all its own.
Another aspect of the charm and allure of the NBA are the pre-game handshakes that players have invented, each pair of teammates vying to be more creative and hilarious than their competition. It has become a prior-to-tipoff ritual, and we felt it was only right to rank the best the league has to offer. The NBA: where incredible handshakes happen.
8. Tim Duncan and Patty Mills
Although he is one of the best power forwards to ever play the game, Tim Duncan has long avoided doing anything remotely hip or cool during his time in the NBA. He dresses like a freshman in high school who just discovered Tall Tees. He dances like he spends weekends watching VH1. He did wear Foamposites once, but he probably decided they were too hip and changed out of them immediately. It makes sense, then, that his attempted handshake with Patty Mills went horribly, horribly wrong. But it lands on our list because Duncan tried. After 18 years in the league, that’s all we can really ask for.
7. Rajon Rondo and Ben McLemore
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Sometimes there’s nothing better than a good old-fashioned, firm handshake. That’s what Sacramento Kings teammates Rajon Rondo and Ben McLemore have taken to doing after one assists the other on a basket. The two simply shake hands on their way back down the court. There’s beauty in its simplicity, although it might stem from the mental exhaustion one suffers from having to play for the Kings. Even so, points to Rondo and McLemore for their homage to a simpler time.
6. Jeremy Lin and Frank Kaminsky
There’s very little video evidence of Charlotte Hornets teammates Frank Kaminsky and Jeremy Lin doing their secret handshake, which, according to Kaminsky, they call “Frank Is Awesome.” But we were able to capture a brief GIF of its execution. We already know that Kaminsky is a great dancer, and this handshake with his buddy Lin confirms it.
5. Iman Shumpert and LeBron James
When you have an immaculate hairstyle like Iman Shumpert, any opportunity to showcase it on a national stage is a major moment. Fortunately, LeBron James, the king of being on-brand, recognizes the opportunity Shumpert offers, and he seamlessly exploits it in their pre-game handshake. If only James possessed the ability to match hairdos with Shump, then all would perfect and right in the world. Instead, well, enough jokes have been made about LBJ’s hairline, and we don’t want to pile on.
4. Kelly Oubre and DeJuan Blair
You might not catch it, but under the darkness of the Washington Wizards’ pre-game introductions, Kelly Oubre performs a next-level handshake with teammate DeJuan Blair. Their choreography could take even the most skilled performers weeks to memorize. There’s the rapid slapping of hands, what looks like an air guitar riff, and a transition to a Dab at shoulder level. It’s executed perfectly, without as much as a hiccup. Bravo, you two. Bravo.
3. J.R. Smith and Kevin Love
If we’re being honest, all of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ pre-game handshakes could make this list. It seems like everyone on the roster has a specific handshake with each teammate. But J.R. Smith’s and Kevin Love’s duet stands out from the rest. There’s not much to it, just a quick high-five before the two begin skipping around in a circle, as if they awoke on Christmas morning to find an Xbox One under the tree and couldn’t contain their emotions. But that’s what makes it so great. Just the image of Love, who at this point in the season looks like he locked himself in a cabin for six months to finish his novel, and Smith, one of the goofiest dudes in the NBA, skipping around like children gives us immense joy.
2. James Harden and Clint Capela
Half Patty Cake, half Look At My Dab, Houston Rockets’ BFFs James Harden and Clint Capela look like they have more fun executing this brilliant handshake than actually playing basketball—something the Rockets have not been very good at this season. The Patty Cake needs to make its return to modern culture, and we applaud Harden and Capela for doing their part to ensure it does.
1. Cameron Payne and Russell Westbrook
Cameron Payne’s arrival in Oklahoma City was a gift of the highest degree. The former Murray State Racer and rookie backup point guard revolutionized the art of the pre-game handshake—and he brought Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant with him. His best work is reserved for Westbrook, and the two have so much fun dancing around that they mix it up almost every night, which makes them the clear winner our NBA pre-game handshake rankings. As a bonus, we’ve included a second video below, and we’ll forgive you if you spend the rest of your day watching it on a loop. Bless your heart, Cameron Payne. We’ve been waiting for you all our lives.