There has been much buzz about Lebron James barbershop talk show “The Shop”, and rightfully so. For anyone who has spent any amount of time in their local barbershop, you quickly realize it has an ecosystem of it’s own. Filled with rules, codes and a decorum of behaviour that all abide by. Most importantly it is the greatest source of street-level education on the sociological impact of sports and culture in ones respective community.
The only real urban barbershops I knew coming up in Toronto in the early 1990’s was on a street called Eglinton West. It was the mecca for young ballers to get our fresh cuts and there was never less than 4-5 barbershops on one short block. That made it ideal for catching the latest buzz on what was happening in communities across the Greater Toronto Area but for us ballers it was also the best opportunities to debate over which of our favorite National Basketball Association (NBA) teams and players were most dominant.
In 1995, the NBA would answer every Canadian ballers prayer and plant it’s first Canadian franchise in Toronto. Immediately the barbershop debates would be centred around our struggle to accept Damon Stoudamire as our #1 pick in the NBA Draft. Until he won us over, proving himself as our city’s “Mighty Mouse”. Another great curiosity was about the personal lives of the incoming players. Where were they living, where would they hang out and where were they going to get their hair cut??
Coming from another country to a big city is a challenge for most people. For the Raptor players many of them had never even been to Canada before. They would have to figuring out not only their new team but everyday life in Toronto as well. Knowing this I was convinced I would soon start seeing our local NBA stars on our hottest barber strip, Eglinton West, for a crash course on Toronto culture. Despite the popularity of Eglinton West’s barbershops I never saw one Raptor player! To my surprise I would soon find out that my own cousin, Paul Coleman was developing a portfolio of Raptor clients at his shop “Karisma Barbers” far from Eglinton West in a Toronto Suburb called Scarborough. I had to see for myself and sure enough I walked in and there was the Raptors center, Loren Woods. Triggered by Lebron’s show I had to reflect back and have Paul explain to me how this came to be…
Paul Coleman’s Beginnings
Long before the Raptors came to town Paul began cutting as a joke while hanging out in a friends basement. Paul had always enjoyed going to the barbershop with his dad as a child. Seeing the designs and styles that were being created was very exciting for him. From then he instantly fell in love with the creative things that could be done with a pair of clippers. Word would get out about Paul’s budding skills and he was invited to bring his talent to his high school to service his fellow students. That would lead to many more hours of practice, going to shows and learning a variety of ways to advance his skills as a barber and a businessman. In 1994 Paul became partners with Sean Johnson at his first barbershop, “Hair for Mankind” in Scarborough, then he moved a short distance away and open his first solo shop, “Karisma Barbers” in 1999. Paul finally settled into his current shop “The Experience Mens Grooming” in 2011.
Tracy McGrady’s Arrival
In 1997 the Raptors would once again shock the Toronto fans and draft 18 year old Tracy McGrady straight out of high school, with their 9th pick. This decision would soon prove to be a pivotal decision for the franchise and the beginnings of Paul Coleman becoming the most sought after Canadian Barber for the Toronto Raptors players and Coaches. Imagine how difficult it must have been to be a teenage NBA star with a spotlight shining brightly on your every move, while trying to navigate daily routines. This was what 18 year old Toronto Raptor, Tracy McGrady would have to face starting his NBA career a thousands of miles from his home in Bartow, Florida.
Forming trusting relationships in a new city for your average teenager can have many pitfalls. Just ask any teen who has went away to college and stayed on campus. Fortunately for T-Mac the introduction to Paul by a mutual relationship would be the beginnings of a trusted friendship throughout his playing career and after. Through Paul and his barbershop, T-Mac was able to experience the life of an everyday person in his new city, without looking over his shoulder or concerns of harassment. In the few short years T-Mac was in Toronto, his visits to Karisma Barbershop under the watchful eye of Paul, became a stepping stone for the young Raptor to comfortably grow into an NBA superstar and eventually a 2017 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee.
Paul Coleman wasn’t a basketball player growing up. He played college football at Bloomfield College and Burlington County College in New Jersey. However, his barber skills would become an important first introduction to the city of Toronto for many incoming Raptors players and coaches. With each new Raptor client, Paul’s growth as a barber in the city of Toronto would quickly become synonymous with the growth of the Toronto Raptors NBA franchise. To this day Paul maintains a close friendship with many of his NBA clients but his relationship with T-Mac is closest of all. Paul’s loyalty and professionalism made a young T-Mac not only a client but Paul’s No. 1 business promoter as well. T-Mac immediately began connecting Paul to his Raptors teammates and friends from other NBA teams as well. Soon Paul’s skills and professionalism as a barber would earn him a special place in their lives with exclusive invites into their homes and personal life.
It’s been 22 years since Paul Coleman started tightening up fades and edges for Toronto Raptors players going back to Tracey MacGrady, Alvin Williams, Michael Stewart, TJ Ford, Loren Woods, Mr. “Half Man/Half Amazing” Vince Carter, Jamario Moon, Chris Bosh, Jake Voskuhl, Joey Graham, Dee Brown, Rick Brunson, Fred Jones, Pops Mensah Bonsu, all the way to present day former Raptor Demar DeRozan. On Paul’s roster wasn’t just the Toronto Raptors. It was also the incoming Raptors opponents that utilized his vital service. Baron Davis, Al Harrington, Brandon Bass, Jamaal Magloire, Jermaine O’Neil, and even the great NBA Hall of Famer, Yao Ming received their pregame shape up at the hands of Paul’s trusted shears.
Paul has now been cutting hair for 31 years and is considered a master barber. His main focus is mentoring new barbers and helping them to develop a legacy greater than his. Paul is most proud of the large number of young barbers who have opened their own shops under his guidance. As for his personal business, Paul now reserves breaking out his prized shears for concert tours, television shows, and the palettes of his exclusive clientele of NBA, NFL, NHL, CFL, and Hollywood Stars.
The Live Interview
Listen to my interview with Paul “the Barber Legend” Coleman as he tells the story of his “Journey of an Elite 1”. Going from a cutting his friends to now helping other up and coming barbers become masters and owners of their craft.