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NBA Celebration Are About To Become a Touchy Subject

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  • Tip Bones

Before the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe and forced the NBA's monthslong pause, the Los Angeles Lakers stacked a Western Conference-leading 49 wins. Many a postgame celebration unfolded at Staples Center. Cameras surrounded Lakers superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis for their nightly on-court interviews, breaking down what exactly went right during yet another Los Angeles victory. 

After fulfilling their media obligations, cameras still rolling, James and Davis often found each other amid the sea of personnel flooding the arena floor, where they'd proceed with a well-choreographed, in-sync handshake.

James and Davis would low-five twice in a row, raise their hands for two consecutive high-fives and then engage in a third sequence, in which they tapped paws, swiped the backs of their fingers against the other's and then tapped the inside of their hands a final time. 

James has orchestrated handshakes with NBA teammates dating back to his first stint in Cleveland, when the young Cavaliers would notably pose for a mock team photo after pregame player introductions. In Los Angeles, James doesn't just uncork a handshake routine with Davis. He slaps hands twice with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope before they lift their arms over their heads like they're firing bows and arrows. James' routine with Lakers center JaVale McGee ends with double-tapping hands before thundering the inside of their elbows together. James and Los Angeles wing Danny Green slap hands before pointing to an elbow. 

James remembers patterns with each and every teammate, and he still unleashes a lengthy greeting with a Heat ball boy whenever he returns to Miami for games. Yet while the Lakers mount their title chase during the NBA's restart, in establishing a "bubble" at Disney's expansive campus-like properties just outside Orlando, Florida, the league office is encouraging all team personnel to refrain from unnecessary physical contact, specifically listing high-fives, handshakes, fist bumps and hugs among many celebratory faux pas. "People don't shake hands anymore," Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. "We bump elbows."

Across the league, players and coaches have substituted slapping hands for touching elbows as teams have restarted practice. The Brooklyn Nets, who have seen several players test positive for COVID-19, are also congratulating teammates with air-fives. The Utah Jazz end practice by shoving their feet into the middle of their huddle.

Overall, players and coaches are required to maintain at least six feet of distance from one another during virtually all activity outside on-court work and outdoor meals. Masks are required at all times when inside a team facility (except for games and practices) or otherwise outside individuals' rooms. 

The league office has also firmly suggested players limit other on-court behaviors that, by nature, could factor into spreading the virus. "Some guys chewing their mouth guards, some guys wiping sweat off their face," Malone said, "certain things that the NBA wants our players to get away from doing, just to create as safe an environment as possible." Especially in Florida, where cases have reached 315,767 cases as of Friday morning. 

And while even the most casual observer can recognize the benefits of limiting the transfer of saliva and sweat between players, we can actually quantify what teams may lose from an inability to touch one another as a form of communication. 

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