Watch any sporting competition today and it’s hard to believe that until about forty years ago the “high five” simply didn’t exist! Although there are different versions of the origins of this instantly recognisable — but very American — gesture of greeting / celebration, many believe that the first-ever high five happened during a baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros. 


It was 2 October 1977 and the last game of the season. Dusty Baker, a star player for the Dodgers, had just hit a home run. To celebrate, he rushed towards his teammates, where the first person to meet him was player Glenn Burke, who raised his right arm with an open hand. Baker automatically reached up and hit Burke’s hand: “It seemed like the thing to do”, he commented afterwards. This gesture soon spread to other American sports, and then around the world thanks to the TV coverage of major sporting events. As its popularity escalated, it broke out of the sporting realm and began to be used for any celebratory moment. 

460 The High Five Getty

Vietnam Vets

There is, of course, another story related to its origins. Lamont Sleets was a high-profile college basketball player who would often high five his teammates. When asked why, he explained that his father had served in the Vietnam War in a unit nicknamed The Five.  When, years later, the veterans met up, they would always stretch out their arm, spread their five fingers and slap each other’s hands, yelling “Five!”. At the time, Lamont was a kid, but he loved the gesture of camaraderie and began to imitate it. 

Jazz Culture

Whichever story is true, today it is also commonly understood that the high five was an evolution of the lesser-known low five. This nonchalant greeting had been a part of African-American jazz culture since at least the 1920s, and consisted of two people slapping each other’s lowered hands. The noun ‘high five’ entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 1980; and the verb ‘to high five (someone)’ was added the next year. No matter how and when this worldwide cultural phenomenon originated, nothing seems to convey the message “Job well done!” as perfectly as a loud and enthusiastic high five.