Who Invented the High Five? Story of the Golden Gesture

The high five, a universal emblem of human camaraderie, has an interesting lineage that goes beyond mere celebratory actions, encapsulating the essence of human connection.

This gesture has been adapted to express a range of emotions, including joy, victory, solidarity, and, at times, consolation.

Tracing its origins and evolution reveals not only a fascinating story of a simple yet significant gesture but also provides a reflection of our innate need for social interaction and recognition.

The high five has woven itself into the social fabric through various historical milestones, social movements, and technological advancements, reflecting societal evolution.

Who Invented the High Five?

One story portrays basketball player Lamont Sleets as the person who supposedly created the high five as an homage to his father’s Vietnam unit, “The Five.” 

On a parallel track, Wiley Brown and Derek Smith, basketball players from the University of Louisville, are credited with bringing the high five to prominence during their 1980 season.

These varying accounts signify a broader cultural acceptance of the gesture, suggesting its emergence might be a result of spontaneous cultural convergence rather than a singular event.

When Was the High Five Invented?

The inception of the modern high five during the late 1970s indeed parallels a period of socio-political ferment in America. This era, marked by movements clamoring for racial equality and social justice, provided a fertile ground for the emergence of symbols embodying unity and shared human experience.

The high five, in its modern avatar, emerged as a non-verbal discourse of solidarity, embodying an ethos of communal celebration and acknowledgment.

Its birth during such a transformative epoch illustrates the innate human propensity to create symbols that resonate with the prevailing socio-political narrative.

Where Did the High Five Originate?

The roots of the high five stem from a mosaic of cultural traditions, but its present-day incarnation echoes an American essence. The high five’s modern version, with its vertical trajectory, mirrors the rise of sportsmanship and camaraderie in the late 20th century USA.

This gesture transcended mere celebration, morphing into a universal emblem of shared success and social bonding.

The journey from a spontaneous celebratory slap to a structured high-five illuminates the dynamics of cultural evolution. As it transitioned from the American sports arenas to global stages, the high five carried with it an air of congeniality that resonated across borders.

Did Dusty Baker Invent the High Five?

Though the act of hand slapping was not new, the distinctive style and spirit of the high five captured during Dusty Baker and Glenn Burke’s celebratory moment indeed carved a new cultural niche. Their spontaneous gesture under the spotlight became synonymous with an era striving for racial unity and social cohesion.

Moreover, the resonance of this gesture struck a chord within and beyond the baseball community. Its organic adoption in various societal spheres underscores its symbolic potency. The high five became more than just a celebratory act; it morphed into a profound symbol of social unity and equality.

In the context of America’s socio-political landscape, it reflected a desire for communal harmony and a step towards transcending racial and social barriers.

What is the History of the High Five?

The essence of mutual recognition and mutually felt success found a universal appeal, rendering it a timeless symbol of human interaction.

Furthermore, the digital reincarnation of the high five signifies its enduring relevance in a rapidly evolving societal framework. As emojis or virtual gestures, the high five continues to encapsulate a sense of shared joy and acknowledgment, albeit in a new digital context.

Glenn Burke and Dusty Baker’s Famous High-Five

One of the most iconic instances is the high five between Los Angeles Dodgers players Dusty Baker and Glenn Burke during a game against the Houston Astros in 1977. This event at the Dodger Stadium is often touted as the inception of the “high five” as we know it today.

After hitting a home run, Dodgers outfielder Dusty Baker celebrated by reaching his hand out to Burke, who reciprocated the gesture, resulting in the first-ever high-five.

Dusty Baker and His Influence

Dusty Baker, after his ensuing baseball career, continues to be a lasting icon within the sport and beyond. Baker’s high five with Burke during the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros continues to be a lasting symbol of camaraderie and celebration. Dusty Baker hit not just a home run that day but also marked a historic moment in the world of sports and social interaction.

Glenn Burke, an Openly Gay Athlete

Glenn Burke’s revelation as being openly gay among his teammates during his time playing for both the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland Athletics, where he was traded later, was precedent-setting. The high five Burke shared with Baker became a defiant symbol of gay pride within the sports community.

Following his retirement from baseball, Glenn Burke moved to San Francisco’s Castro district. There, he emerged as a beloved figure and a defiant symbol of gay pride. It’s noteworthy to remember that this event occurred during a crucial time for the LGBTQ+ community in San Francisco, making Burke and Dusty Baker’s celebratory high five an even more considerable event.

Which Professional Team First Introduced the High Five?

The high five has also been adopted by numerous professional sports teams. It’s often a part of the team’s high-five salute following their victories. Widely regarded as a symbol of camaraderie and team spirit, it promotes unity and a collective sense of achievement among players.

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ embrace of the high five epitomizes the confluence of sports, culture, and societal interactions.

As the act of high-fiving proliferated across various sporting arenas, it began reflecting more than just athletic triumph; it echoed a broader social narrative. The simplicity and spontaneity of this gesture made it a candid symbol of shared success, which resonated well with the collective consciousness of the time.

The high five’s adoption across different professional teams and sporting events underscores its universal charm and the ability to encapsulate the spirit of competition and camaraderie. It did not merely remain a celebratory gesture but became a language of victory and acknowledgment, establishing a communal bond among athletes and fans alike.

Give Me a Five!

The high five, thus, not only encapsulates a moment of historical significance but also accentuates the common human desire for connection and recognition.

An umpteen amount of movies, TV shows, and music videos feature characters giving a high five.

Turns out, everybody does it nowadays. It has grown out of the celebration bubble that it once used to be in as the gesture leaks out into popular culture and sneaks into the whims of daily life.


Unofficial Inventor of the High-Five Talks about Its Louisville Roots, www.whas11.com/article/features/great-day-live/unofficial-inventor-of-the-high-five-talks-about-its-louisville-roots/417-54aff6d8-9cde-4f76-a190-34961e023a81. Accessed 25 Oct. 2023.

Grant, Kellan. “Dodgers History: Dusty Baker and the Birth of the High-Five.” Dodgers Nation, 31 Mar. 2020, dodgersnation.com/dodgers-history-dusty-baker-and-the-birth-of-the-high-five/2020/03/31/#:~:text=Waiting%20for%20Baker%20in%20the,for%2030%20short%20titled.

Nonverbal Communication

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“Murray State.” Murray State University Athletics, goracers.com/honors/hall-of-fame/lamont-sleets/82. Accessed 26 Oct. 2023.

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