Immature, pathetic rant about pregame basketball handshakes

Posted: January 15, 2014 by shawnfury in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

Disclaimer: These are the ramblings of an aging has-been. Yes, there are more important things to worry about. Yes, this sounds like someone screaming about people getting off his lawn. I know, I know.

On Tuesday night I braved the elements, walked two blocks and wandered into my old high school at Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton and watched the boys basketball team. The locals lost a two-point game. I wish the Bulldogs had won but the result also provided the one present all former players want: Evidence that my era’s team would have mopped the floor with these youngsters. What else could aging, graying, paunch-carrying middle-aged men want?

The Bulldogs annoyed me with their reluctance to take open 3-pointers and their inability to make them with any consistency when they did shoot them. I pictured what my team would have done against the opposition’s less-than-stellar zone defense and lamented the easy baskets JWP surrendered. The small crowd did not conjure up memories of the bigger crowds we played in front of 20 years earlier. Again, I realize this is not an attractive look — no one likes to listen to anyone talk about how things were better back in the day, especially because we probably had to listen to the same things when we were in school. That said…we would have drilled ’em.

But the in-game action didn’t bother me as much as the pregame. During introductions, each player strolls over to the opposing coach and shakes his hand. Over the weekend, I saw a variation on that theme as one team’s players went over to shake hands with the ref, which feels like a borderline attempt at bribery. This has been going on for a long time, more than a decade. The gesture promotes sportsmanship, an admirable goal. It’s not new but each time I see it I still sigh, shake my head, dig into my popcorn, swig a soda and remember what high school introductions were once capable of.

Certain laws apply to pregame intros in high school, and they should never be violated, even though the rules say you actually have to these days:

1. No shaking the opposing coach’s hand.
2. They alternate.

During our home games we followed rule 1 — no one yet had thought to encourage sportsmanship by forcing us to shake hands with the enemy — but not the second. There are coaches who dislike each other, for personal or professional reasons. Those attitudes can seep down to the players; as long as everything stays fairly cordial, there’s no harm in it. Sometimes it’s fun to bicker with an opposing coach, provided everything stays respectful. But a “sit down, coach” never hurt anyone. Those feelings can add to a rivalry game. Now you have to go make nice, though I suppose a player — or the coach — could always squeeze a little harder on that handshake. (And please note, it does no good to alternate if you have the players approach the coach before the opposing player. Both intro laws must be followed).

At JWP introduced the five starters from the visitors, then the home team. This was acceptable, just not ideal. I always loved District, Region, Sub-Section, or Section games that alternated the introductions. Fans for both teams stood. The PA guy introduced a player for one team, then a player for the other — always starting with the guards and ending with the big men. The first player went to the midcourt circle to wait for his adversary and the second guy came out, ran over to the circle and shook his hand or just slapped it with a bit of disdain and nonchalance or grasped it while making eye contact. This was the guy you were likely to guard and it was the first time to square off and judge him. Did he look nervous, scared, angry, already sweating? If the player introduced first wanted to set a bit of a tone, he could wander over to the other team’s side a bit, testing the waters, asserting some authority as he waited for the second player to emerge from his huddle. The intros can set the tone for a team. I can still remember my junior year when we upset Maple River at Gustavus Adolphus and one of our two stars, Lance Nelson, flew out for intros and to the midcourt circle. We already felt energized and we wanted Maple River, the area’s power, the overwhelming favorite. We carried that energy throughout the game. We won that year but lost the next year against that same Maple River team. This time it happened in Waseca, but again the intros alternated, setting the stage for the showdown. I loved standing there, waiting for my counterpart to emerge. The intros went well that night, even if the final result didn’t.

The big games at Mankato State always alternated. The PA guy, an older fellow, mild-mannered but a perfect voice for these games, introduced the bench players first. Then, as the crowd started clapping, he’d say it was time to introduce the starters. He’d pause for a second and then say, “And we’ll alternate.” Damn right.

And those introductions didn’t make time for detours to shake the coach’s hand. It takes away the drama, robs a big game of some of its mystique. The PA guy introduces the star, the crowd roars, he slaps hands with his teammates and bursts free from the huddle…only to somewhat sheepishly meander over to the other team’s huddle where he shakes hands with the leader of the bad guys. Sportsmanship is a good thing, yes, and during the game players can be good sportsmen even in the most heated of circumstances. But leave it there, for when the clock is running. Before that? Leave the coaches out of it. And always, always, always alternate. Your memories will thank you.

  1. Lance says:

    I could not agree more!!!! I would have never shook hands with an opposing coach or an official. I didn’t like most of the coaches from the other teams and I sure wasn’t going to shake the hand of an official (although in fairness, most officials were not my biggest fans either). And I too loved the alternating hand shakes with opposing players, but it wasn’t for sportsmanship, it was for gamesmanship. I loved when we were introduced first because it meant you were the visitor. I would always be at least 2 or 3 steps across half court as if to say, it doesn’t matter whose gym we are in, I am going to own it tonight.
    All this nonsense started when the state tournament started doing it during intros and then somehow it trickled down into the regular season. And the problem I have with it, is it seems as though its forced. Kid comes out fist bumps the officials and then meanders over and shakes the coach’s hand. And the thing I have noticed more and more, is that it is usually an assistant coach anyway because the coach has his team in the huddle for some last minute coaching before hitting the floor.

  2. Jess says:

    I was at the Burnsville-Apple Valley game Friday night (have to see Tyus Jones play for free at least once, right?) and noticed the weird pregame handshake ritual. I don’t like it, either. They did alternate announcing the lineups, but then the players crossed over to the opposite sideline and it was rather chaotic with the kids getting in each others’ way. #getoffmylawn

  3. shawnfury says:

    And not to compare high school intros to NBA, but you had the other end of the ridiculous spectrum with the Heat last year when they wouldn’t even walk out for the intros. They all just stood on the bench. Okay.

    Speaking of grouchiness, it also came up last night when I looked at the wall in the gym. No more Gopher Conference for JWP, so all of those old mascot things are gone. Replaced by the Valley Conference Sportsmanship code. Come on.

    • Lance says:

      You know one other thing that is a disgrace is that they don’t have banners showing the success of the schools. The should be a state tournament appearance banner with the 2 Bulldog appearances in the 90′s and 1 in the 2000′s and also the Pemberton appearance back in the 50′s. Plus they should have another banner showing the many district/sub – section championships. Just of the top of my head 87 at Waldorf, 89 Janesville, 92 JWP. They need to show some pride and history of athletic success at the school. That would be nice.

  4. […] habit of standing at midcourt and shaking the hands of the opposing players in pregame warmups. As I once railed about, this is one of the trends that confuses me. Many a Minnesota West game the opposing team would get introduced, wander over toward midcourt and […]

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