High five

What is the origin of the “high five” sign? When did it come into common use?

Merriam-Webster finds the first published use of the term “high five” in 1981. It doesn’t say any more than that, but I will add that it almost certainly comes from African-Americans.

Not a definitive answer, but I think it has been attributed to the University of Houston basketball team of the early 80’s (Clyde Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwan, et al).

I have no cite, but I remember hearing that (I hope I get the name right; don’t have my baseball almanac in front of me) Billy Beane (a Major League Baseball player of years ago whose other claim to fame is that he was basically outsted from baseball because he was gay) was one of the first to use the high-five. Apparently it derived from handshakes, but was more forceful, according to what I had heard. It may indeed have been borrowed from black culture.

The Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com) credits Dick Shawn, in the 1969 movie, The Producers:

Billy Beane, born in 1962 and played his first year in 1984 probably can be ruled out, with the term appearing in print in 1981.

The Dick Shawn thing is intriguing. Those articles at imdb are submitted without anyone checking them. So I would take that with a grain of salt. I guess someone will have to watch the movie this weekend.

Billy Beane with an “e” at the end is the General Manager of the Oakland A’s.

Billy Bean is the former San Diego Padres player. He was not ousted from baseball, he retired in 1995, opened a restaurant, then came out as gay in 1999.

Lamont Sleets is the individual who started the high five…this is generally accepted now and he grew up using it, popularized it playing high school basketball in the 70’s (eminence high school) and college basketball in the early 80’s (murray state). He helped originate the high five in the mid 60’s when he was a little boy, adopted from his father and his father’s friends who were Vietnam war vets. It began as a gesture amongst the “bobcat division” that they had nicknamed “the five”, and it was how little Lamont would greet his dad’s friends.

I believe the high five was used in the 1968 movie “the producers”, but regardless if it was used, the context the Hitler character was using it would be in doubt, and Lamont was nevertheless already using it with his father’s Vietnam war friends circa 1965.

In Jim Bouton’s 1971 book “I’m Glad You Didn’t Take it Personally”, he mentions how NYC sportswriter Dick Young wrote approving on how Bouton’s manager Harry Walker didn’t like players/youths slapping hands instead of shaking them. I don’t remember the term ‘high five’ used before the 80s.

The term “high five” might not have been used until the 1980 (or perhaps late 70’s), but it was definitely Lamont Sleets of Murray State that started doing the “high five.” He began doing it publicly when he was a star high school basketball player in the mid 70’s, and as stated above, it came from how he greeted his father’s Vietnam war friends (“The Five” Bobcat Division) back when Lamont was a little boy in the mid 60’s.

You are thinking of Glenn Burke of the Dodgers, who on October 2, 1977 “high fived” Dusty Baker in a somewhat unintentional or unorthodox move. Burke was one of, if not the first gay pro baseball player to “come out.”

I remember as a kid in the late 70s running through a routine of:

“Gimmie five!” (hold your hand out with an upward open palm) >slap<
“On the side!” (turn the same hand sideways) >slap<
“Up high!” (traditional ‘high five’ position) >slap<
“Down low!” (hold hand lower than the first ‘five’) (person tries to slap, you pull your hand away so they miss)
“Too slow!”

Surely it just evolved from the “gimmie five / up high”, but I couldn’t tell you when.

Burke was also allegedly run off from the Dodgers because he was allegedly in a relationship with Tommy Lasorda’s son.

Burke told his teammates and coaches he was gay. He didn’t come out publicly until 1982, a few years after he retired. Billy Beane did the same thing, coming out in 1999 after he’d been retired for a few years.

Burke and Dusty Baker have been repeatedly credited as the originators of the high five. Baker is currently manager of the Cincinnati Reds.