"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Slap Me Five

Over at ESPN the Magazine, Jon Mooallem has a piece on the history and mystery of the high five:

When I first phoned Lamont Sleets this spring, I knew only the following: He is a middle-aged man living in the small town of Eminence, Ky.; he played college basketball for Murray State University between 1979 and 1984; and he reportedly created one of the most contagious, transcendently ecstatic gestures in sports — and maybe, for that matter, American life.

I was calling Sleets because I wanted to talk to the man who invented the high five. I’d first read about him in 2007 in a press release from National High Five Day, a group that was trying to establish a holiday for convivial palm-slapping on the third Thursday in April. Apparently, Sleets had been reluctantly put in touch with the holiday’s founders, and he explained that his father, Lamont Sleets Sr., served in Vietnam in the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry — a unit nicknamed The Five. The men of The Five often gathered at the Sleets home when Lamont Jr. was a toddler. They’d blow through the front door doing their signature greeting: arm straight up, five fingers spread, grunting “Five.” Lamont Jr. loved to jump up and slap his tiny palms against their larger ones. “Hi, Five!” he’d yell, unable to keep all their names straight. Years later, Sleets started high-fiving his Murray State teammates, and when the Racers played away games, other teams followed. In short, Lamont Sleets was both the inventor of the high five and its Johnny Appleseed.

The low five had been a fixture of African-American culture since at least World War II. It might seem impossible to pinpoint when the low five ratcheted itself upright and evolved into the high five, but there are countless creation myths in circulation. Magic Johnson once suggested that he invented the high five at Michigan State. Others trace it to the women’s volleyball circuit in the 1960s. But the Sleets story quickly shot around the Internet and into local newspapers, displacing, or at least undermining, all other claims. Sleets was budging his way atop the high-five hierarchy.

I love the low five. Still slap people five all the time. It is so satisfying, especially when your palms cup just right and it makes that good popping sound. It’s like hitting a ball on the sweet spot.

Categories:  1: Featured  Bronx Banter

Share: Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email %PRINT_TEXT


1 NoamSane   ~  Aug 8, 2011 1:58 pm

That's a pretty great article. I think the low five gets short shrift these days, but that article gives me a whole new appreciation of the high five.

And I know Sabermetricians hate him and he overworks his starting pitchers, but, I'm sorry, Dusty Baker is just cool.

2 Alex Belth   ~  Aug 8, 2011 3:46 pm

1) Oh, hell yeah he is. Dusty Baker is nothing if not cool.

3 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Aug 8, 2011 9:26 pm

I need to hit Gooogle later to check this, but I remember reading somewhere that around the same time black US jazz musicians started calling each other "man" as a way to take the sting out of constantly being called "boy" by white bosses. Dizzy Gillespie in particular, in his hep-cat beret & goatee period, called everyone "man"...

4 Boatzilla   ~  Aug 9, 2011 12:03 am

Hmmm. I distinctly remember my sister teaching me the "gimmie some skin" and "gimme five" greetings when I was around 5 years old. That would be around 1968 out in Huntington, L.I.

It was not the high five, but it was a gentle hand slap, palm out stretched horizontally.

Is that the "low five" he talks about. Because I always thought the low five was when you go real low, like ankle high.

5 NoamSane   ~  Aug 9, 2011 7:09 pm

[3] I dig the "Man" story. Don't remember hearing that before somehow.
[4] "low" five became low in the late 70s early 80s when the high variety took off.

[2] I read somewhere around a decade ago that Dusty was intending to change his last name to "X" (a la Malcolm) around the time he first came up with the Braves. His father and Henry Aaron talked him out of it. My wife and I still refer to him as "Dusty X"

feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver