Barber in the Bubble: The East Palo Alto Stylist Giving Coronavirus Cuts to NBA Stars

6 min
Sedric Salinas, an East Palo Alto barber, was chosen to give haircuts to NBA players at their 'bubble' facility near Orlando, Florida. (Courtesy of Sedric Salinas)

Twenty-two NBA teams are getting ready to play a pandemic-truncated basketball season inside a "bubble" at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex at the Disney Resort near Orlando, Florida.

Although the Golden State Warriors won’t be representing the Bay Area, Sedric Salinas of East Palo Alto has made the — um — cut.

Salinas, who started cutting hair on his grandma's porch at the age of 15, is one of just six barbers invited into the exclusive NBA bubble to give fresh cuts to players.

Salinas spoke to KQED News from Orlando on the day his week-long quarantine ended. Having just signed a contract, he was careful not to name anybody, including the NBA player who was responsible for getting invited into the bubble in the first place.

Below are highlights from the interview.

On the haircut that brought him here

I’ve been living in East Palo Alto all my life. I had moved to LA (last September) just because I wanted to give myself a shot and give myself more chances for opportunity. Then about a month and a half, almost two months, later I ended up cutting (the hair of) an NBA player’s brother, who I didn't know was his brother. … A couple days later, I was cutting the NBA player.

On quarantining for 7 days far from home

I’m super busy. I’m always ripping and running around here and there cutting hair all day. So I’m so used to activity and action. … To come here and being so close to getting out there and cutting hair, I feel like it was more of like a test to see if I could follow instructions, to see if I could, for one, have the patience, you know? Gotta stay down for the come up. That’s what I always say. I have to chill. I actually used the time for journaling, because I’m feeling so many emotions, and for writing music and talking to friends. ... It gave me time for myself to really reflect on the last year and how I got to where I’m at and where I would want to take it still.

On whose hair he hopes to cut

Anybody. It’s an opportunity no matter whether it’s a rookie or a 15-year veteran. I don’t really like to worry about who I’m gonna cut, because God’s gonna put whoever is supposed to be in my chair in my chair, you know? So I try not to overthink it. Because if you chase something so bad, you possibly push it out of your life. I just try to let things come to me naturally, organically.

Whoever sits in my chair, I’ll try to feed them my energy and do the best work I can do, like I do for anybody, ballplayer or not.

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These guys don’t have their original barbers. I understand what it’s like changing barbers and definitely not being able to choose your barber. … The benefit for me is I let my work do the talking, and then I let my energy do the rest. ... That’s my main goal anytime I cut someone’s hair: make sure somebody asks them, “Who cut your hair?”

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On why he decided to do this

I’m not doing this for any recognition. I’m doing this to motivate people to show them that you can make it without playing ball, without being a rapper. Coming from my hood, that’s all we know: Either get on somebody’s field, somebody’s court or pick up somebody’s mic. You can be right there with the greats. You can be bumping shoulders with all the same people that they tell us we have to be to be somebody. I just want to motivate everybody to chase their dreams.

On how cutting hair during the pandemic took him back to his roots

I was living in LA when it first started. I needed money. I’m a barber, and I don’t get no PTO. I needed to go home (to East Palo Alto), because that’s where my money is.

I came home and I knew my demand was very high because barber shops were not open and I have a lot of clients back at home that miss me. All I had to do was come home and let them know I was back home and I was as busy as I’ve ever been in any barbershop ever in my life.

The ironic part was, I was in my front yard back when it all started. Because it all started at my grandma’s house in East Palo Alto right on the porch. I set up shop right on the porch. And it was like “Barbershop” (the movie). I had five or six people out there waiting, chilling. The police drive by and they don’t pay me no mind.

Coming from the hood, at least they see I’m not out there drinking, selling drugs. I was out there trying to make a living during hard times. I appreciate them for respecting that and not giving me no fuss about it.