Thunder's Russell Westbrook-Cameron Payne pregame routine sets tone

Westbrook and Payne add a new chapter with in-game rituals (0:11)

Russell Westbrook and Cameron Payne show off their dance moves before the start of the second hslf against the Timberwolves. (0:11)

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Cameron Payne says there's a simple name for it.

"Swagdaddies," he says.


"No hyphen. One word. Swagdaddies." With an emphasis on swag.

Payne has used that word to describe other things, like a ridiculous Euro step, but in this case is talking about his now moderately infamous pregame dance routine -- if you want to call it that -- with Russell Westbrook. It goes like this: Actually, it doesn't go like anything. You've just sort of got to see it. And then watch the next game's routine, because no two are the same.

"Every game is something new," Westbrook said. "Got to figure out a new dance every game. Bad thing about that is we've got a lot of games left. So, gotta figure it out, gotta figure it out, but it's just something we came up with."

So, where did it come from? Do they rehearse it at shootaround the morning of the game? Was there a dance/handshake day at training camp where they brainstormed?

"It's ad-libbed. We just come out," Payne said. "I don't ever know what he's going to do. He might do a jumping jack, I don't know. He don't know what I'm going to do. It's just toward the end we end up doing the same thing."

There's a little bit of a walkthrough done in the tunnel before the team runs out, but it's more just a I'm-going-to-do-this-you're-going-to-do-that sort of thing. One night, the whole thing happened in slow motion. Another, Westbrook got down on one knee and swung his arm around wildly. You shouldn't expect to know what they're going to do next, because they really have no clue themselves.

"The way y'all see it is just how it is," Payne said. "It's just something we do. We come out and try to make the game as fun as possible so we come out loose, and be ready to play."

The Thunder have always made the most of the short amount of time following player introductions and tipoff. For years, they've constructed a handshake assembly line of sorts, with each starter going through it and executing some sort of routine with a bench player. It has a couple purposes: to foster chemistry, to get focused and most importantly, to remember to stay loose.

"I think that brings us together as a group and relaxes us a little bit before the game," Kevin Durant said. "It helps. It may look and seem a little stupid, but it helps."

Durant missed 55 games last season because of injuries, and missed a lot more than just that. Of course, the basketball was the main thing, but it was sitting out on the camaraderie and interactions that really stung.

"We hang out with these guys more than anyone off the court, everywhere. Go to dinner, hang out, so we're always doing a little routine all the time," Durant said. "It's all part of being a brotherhood, man, being around each other for so long. I look forward to the start of games. That's one thing I really missed when I was out, was just the routines and just interact with your teammates and getting ready before the games. It means a lot to me. I don't know about everybody else, but it means a lot to me."

Durant has his own thing with Payne, a somewhat toned-down version of what the rookie does with Westbrook. Same idea, though. Just make it up as you go.

"He's definitely challenging me," Durant said.

Payne has become the ringleader of the pregame hoopla, using his rookie exuberance to keep the veterans loose and energized. Payne has worked his way into the rotation, providing the Thunder's second unit a spark on the floor as well, but it's been the spark he helps create before tipoff that's drawing the most attention.

"His energy is contagious," Durant said. "We follow his lead on that type of stuff. He kind of injected his way into the pregame routine, since the first day. I think he gets a little more excited now that he's playing and he's actually a part of being on the floor and getting minutes. So he's coming up with some crazy new dances for us."