Woo hoo! Whether you just scored a hat trick on the soccer field or aced a big test at school, you might want to celebrate by raising your hand high in the air toward a friend or teammate. As they do the same and you slap hands together, you both join in the celebration.
That’s right! We’re talking about the high five. Although it seems like the high five has been around forever, the Oxford English Dictionary has only included the term as a noun since 1980 and as a verb (the act of doing the high five) since 1981.
The name “high five” obviously comes from the fact that you’re raising five fingers (your hand) up in the air (high) when doing the celebratory hand gesture. But exactly how did this time-honored way of celebrating get started? As it turns out, there are several different versions of how the high five got started. The two most likely sources of the high five come from the sports of baseball and basketball.
For years, many people have believed that the first high five took place on October 2, 1977, in Dodger Stadium between Glenn Burke and Dusty Baker of the Los Angeles Dodgers. That day was the last day of the regular season. Dusty Baker hit a home run that made the Dodgers the first team in baseball history to have four players with at least 30 home runs each.
It was one of those magical sports moments that boded well for the Dodgers, who were heading into the playoffs. The next batter was Glenn Burke, and he headed to home plate to congratulate Baker as he rounded the bases.
Burke raised his hand triumphantly in the air toward Baker who returned the gesture and they smacked hands. According to Baker, “[h]is hand was up in the air, and he was arching way back. So I reached up and hit his hand. It seemed like the thing to do.” And the rest, as they say, was history…
Or was it? Another version of high five history credits the invention of the hand gesture to Louisville Cardinals basketball players Wiley Brown and Derek Smith during the 1978-79 season. According to the players, Brown went to give a regular low five to teammate Smith during a practice session.
The low five had been a hand gesture popular among African-Americans since at least World War II. Instead of returning the low five, Smith looked Brown in the eye and said, “No. Up high.” Brown understood what Smith was getting at.
The Louisville Cardinals players that year were known as the Doctors of Dunk, because they liked to play above the rim and slam dunk the ball. Brown thought, why stay low when we play so high? So they raised their hands and the high five was supposedly born.
Both stories are well documented. But there are many other claims of high fives occurring in other sports even earlier. More than likely, the gesture developed simultaneously in different sports in different areas until it gained popularity.
One thing’s for certain, though. The high five is a part of popular culture that is not likely to go away anytime soon. So the next time you want to celebrate an achievement with a friend, just yell “High five!” and stick your hand in the air!