Before every basketball game, players from the Utah Jazz huddle up outside of their locker room, jump up and down, get a little crazy and then head into the arena pumped full of adrenaline.
And that is just the opening ceremony for these players' pregame rituals.
From the time they get dressed until tipoff, members of the Jazz have all sorts of things to do besides stretching and shooting layups and 3-pointers. Some are playful. Some are simply habitual. And all, of course, are critical.
It starts with the "jumping circle," which backup point guard Ronnie Price says they do "to get some blood flowing," and it doesn't end until ...
... C.J. Miles has done all of his playgroundlike handshakes with the starters;
... Carlos Boozer has wiped his feet on the sticky shoe pad, pounded fists with people on the scorer's table and squeezed the game ball;
... Andrei Kirilenko has circled the court to shake all three referees' hands;
... Deron Williams has tossed his heating pack to Jarron Collins and chest-bumped a few players;
... all of the reserves have assumed their unofficially reserved positions on the bench;
... and, well, lots of other important stuff that always happens while fans are waiting in hot-dog lines and scrambling for seats when the ref throws the ball up at center court.
"Everything is so ritualized. It's always the same. Just watch it. It's kind of funny," Collins said. "And if anybody throws anything off with the seating assignment or the ritual it's like, 'What are you doing? You're jinxing us.'"
The happy-go-lucky Miles is the ringleader/head cheerleader. If the NBA had an award for having fun and pumping teammates up during introductions, this enthusiastic 21-year-old would be a serious MVP candidate. Miles is the personal welcoming party for each player at the end of the human greeting tunnel that forms by the Jazz bench when starters are announced.
Miles has a personalized handshake for each starter — and for others on the team — that he energetically performs when the players run through the tunnel.
With Mehmet Okur, Miles wiggles his fingers to signify money because that's one of the Jazz center's nicknames. He does a Russian variation of that with Kirilenko. Boozer's choreographed handshake used to be longer, but they shortened it down this season.
Miles saves his best for the starting guards. In Saturday's Game 4, Miles and Ronnie Brewer crouched down and slapped hands. He said they always do "something off the wall" that they make up.
Will Ferrell and Napoleon Dynamite (at least the actor who played him) can take some credit for the creative routine that Miles and Williams do. The Jazz guards were watching "Blades of Glory," when they were inspired by the two ice-skating actors. (And, really, who wasn't?)
For the few — OK, millions of Jazz fans who missed that, um, cinematic masterpiece — Miles said Ferrell and Jon Heder acted like they were going to give each other fist bumps but then turned away from each other before coming back for a big finish. Little did they know, an NBA ritual would be born.
"Right when it happened in the movie, we did it and ever since then we've done that," Miles said.
The third-year pro said Dee Brown, a backup point guard with the Jazz last season, got the handshaking ball rolling, and he's just kept the tradition going.
"It became a ritual," Miles said. "We're not really superstitious. It's just something that we do every game. It's fun, bonding."
The way they chest-bump and bounce around like Tigger before games, it's apparent that this is not your dad's Stockton-to-Malone Utah Jazz team. Miles says the team, which is one of the youngest teams in the NBA, has fun with its youth, energy and closeness. Getting a little wild is just part of their customary routine that helps them get ready.
"The team's a lot different, a lot younger. ... We're a lot of energetic guys. We're all like brothers. We're all like a family, and we show it on the court," Miles said. "We pump each other up. If somebody's down we help them up, and if somebody does something good we're ready to hype up."
Collins said his routine is about the same every game — even between the time the Jazz do their final pregame chat and the tip. He always gives Boozer "a little fist pound" and then waits for Williams to give him the hot pack. He then shakes hands with Williams, Brewer, Boozer and finally Miles.
Then there's the seating chart, which is unofficial but observed. Collins makes sure he's fourth from the end every time.
"There's a seating ritual, it's not assigned, anybody can sit wherever, but we've all got our spots," he said. "I'm fourth from the end. It goes Matty (Harpring), Jason Hart, Ronnie Price, myself, Paul (Millsap), C.J., Kyle (Korver) and then the coaching staff."
Collins pointed out that the coaches also have a seating order.
"A lot of guys are a little superstitious about things they do and how they prepare themselves. That's just part of the business," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "I think everybody should have a routine of some sort. It helps prepare ya. That's always been my attitude. I have routines I go through but not as dramatic, not as flashy as some of the others."
Though not necessarily superstitious, Sloan said he does adhere to one particular ritual every single game day.
"I try to make sure I eat," he joked.
While fancy handshakes or chest bumps might not be his style, Sloan doesn't mind that his players are a bit exuberant before games.
"They're younger guys," he said. "They seem to be happy."
His only concern is that the players save some juice for the entire game.
"You've got to have energy at the end of ballgames to finish the games," he said. "Sometimes you blow it all off in the early part of the game."
Sloan couldn't recall any particular rituals done by John Stockton or Karl Malone, either.
"They just stepped out there and played," he said.
The new Jazz kids do that, too, of course — just not until all their rituals and rites of pregame passage are done.
Jazz vs. Rockets
Utah leads series 3-1
GAME 1 — Utah 93, Houston 82
GAME 2 — Utah 90, Houston 84
GAME 3 — Houston 94, Utah 92
GAME 4 — Utah 86, Houston 82
GAME 5 — Today at Houston, 7:30 p.m., NBA TV, KJZZ
GAME 6 — Friday at Utah, TBA*
GAME 7 — Sunday at Houston, TBA*
* If necessary