The NBA Finals Are High-Stakes for Barbers, Too


So you want to be a hairstylist with a celebrity clientele? Someone relied upon by the best hoopers on the planet as they navigate the playoff crucible? Start with the fundamentals. Build out your fade factory: Burst, drop, skin, taper, temple, undercut. Add length variations. Mix and match. Elevate your beardwork. Your linework. Your customer service. Reps on reps on reps. Ring lights on ring lights on ring lights. Network and network and network. Grind, hustle, stack.

Specifically: Be prepared to work. When you’re exhausted. When you’re hungry. When your family needs you. When the last thing you want to do is prep another hot towel or grab the middle seat on a Spirit red eye.

This is a craft for the artistic, but an occupation for the relentless. This is a grind they write Modelo commercials about. It’s a journey that can abruptly end with a few unsteady hand movements. An industry in which the latest social media tag could release an avalanche of new clients. 

To learn more about those who fuel the confidence and self-expression of athletes as they maneuver the playoff pressure cooker, GQ spoke with a dozen hairstylists with clients in and around the league, barbers and twist specialists who support starters, reserve players, coaches and pundits. 

They are a rare breed. There are an estimated 12,690 barbers in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Labor. There are around 450 players in the NBA, meanwhile, and just 30 of them in the NBA finals. Many rely upon the same talent through word-of-mouth recommendations.

One barber estimated that 90% of players in the league get cut weekly, and that those numbers spike even higher in the later rounds of the playoffs, as each game carries global appeal. Nearly all of those appointments are handled in hotel rooms, in the airtight windows available to players prior to tipoff. Some are more adventurous: One barber shared a time he had to line up someone in the bed of a truck. Another got a client right in the bathroom next to a sauna—“a bathroom sauna, if you will.” Starters aren’t the only ones looking to get cleaned up: Ty Jerome of the Golden State Warriors had barber Michael Nguyen swing by when his team played Sacramento in the opening round, even though Jerome was a DNP throughout the postseason. Marcus Harvey, an Atlanta-based barber who has lined up players like LeBron James, Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson, and also serves as Nas’ personal barber on tour, spoke with GQ in the minutes after he sent Grant Hill to the NBA TV set for the pregame show. Marcus ‘Burger’ Williams relocated to Houston in large part to be the personal barber for ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins, which has kept him busy in recent months. 

“You know your cut is going to be seen by thousands of people,” said Brandt Day, a barber at Berk’s Barbershop in Lincoln, Nebraska. “You can’t have your client looking like a mess in front of the world. During the NBA finals, many barbers watch SportsCenter damn near half the day

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The NBA Finals Are High-Stakes for Barbers, Too

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