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Key to success? Hugging ... but, oh, the consequences

According to actual scientific research by actual scientists, basketball star Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics has been known to reach out and touch four other guys within 600 milliseconds of shooting a free throw.

This is three-fifths of a second, roughly the same amount of time that other actual scientists have discovered it takes the average person to translate a thought into speech. Some people do it in less time, but this is usually not a good idea.

Back to Garnett: He makes 81 percent of his free throws, so it's safe to assume he begins reaching out to touch people the millisecond the ball leaves his fingertips. He has very long arms, so he can easily use both hands to touch guys on both sides of the lane simultaneously.

But unless it's a crash-the-boards scenario with just split seconds left on the clock, at least one of the four other Celtics players on the court would have to be back on defense, meaning that at least one of the guys Garnett was touching was an opposing player or a referee. The man is a menace.

The actual scientific research, conducted by Michael W. Kraus of the University of California at Berkeley and his colleagues and quoted in the Feb. 23 edition of The New York Times, concludes that in the National Basketball Association, teams whose players touch each other most frequently enjoy greater success than less-touchy teams.

They taped a bunch of NBA games involving all the teams in the league and counted every touch, slap, butt-pat, back-pat, high-five, low-five, chest bump, hug and noogie. The touchiest teams were the Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, also two of the winningest teams. The least touchy were the mediocre-at-best Sacramento Kings and Charlotte Bobcats.

You're thinking, the Celtics have Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and the Lakers have Kobe Bryant. The Kings have Spencer Hawes and the Bobcats just added Theo Ratliff. Maybe that has something to do with it.

But no, says Krause. Even allowing for talent differential, touchiness seems to be a success predictor, Kraus told The Times, though he admitted, "We still have to test this in a controlled laboratory environment." The basketball studies were part of a larger article on the benefits of a touchy-feeling society: "A warm touch seems to see of the release of oxytocin, a hormone that helps create a sensation of trust, and to reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol," The Times reports.

Maybe all we need is to hug and high-five each other more often. I'm going to have some problems with that.

I'm not talking about hugging your kids, which is entirely appropriate, or women hugging women, which is apparently something they do, or even inter-gender hugs when it is mutually welcome. I'm talking about the man-hug.

Once limited to major emotional situations like warfare or Yogi Berra jumping into Don Larsen's arms after a perfect game, the man-hug now is everywhere.

Hey, haven't seen you in a while! (Hug) Hey, good job on the lawn! (Hug) Hey, way to get that bunt down (Hug).

What's wrong with a handshake or the ol' punch in the shoulder? You can overdose on oxytocin. What are we, a nation of figure skaters?

Here's what's going to happen: Management experts are going to find out about this touchy-feeling research. They're going to decide they can either make employees happy by paying them better and improving work condition, or they can have hugging seminars.

Bosses will be encouraged to go through the office, slapping hands and hugging their employees, even troublemakers who don't want to hugged, particularly by the boss, not that I have any particular boss in mind.

Republicans are going to propose reforming the American health care system by encouraging the Healthy Hug Act to encourage uninsured Americans to hug and high-five each other, unless of course, they are gay.

Not to be outdone, Democrats will seek to impose mandatory hugging and terrorist fist-bumping overseen by a cabinet-level Department of Holding and Urban Groping (HUG) with an annual appropriation of $1.5 billion. Kevin Garnett will the HUG secretary.

Horrigan is a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. E-mail him at khorrigan@post-dispatch.com.

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