Meet the barber behind the Toronto Blue Jays - Macleans.ca

Meet the barber behind the Toronto Blue Jays

Joshua Diamante started cutting hair in his mom’s GTA basement. Now he heads up a business that takes care of pro athletes.

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Throne’s Joshua Diamante. (Photo by Paul Bolasco)

Joshua Diamante is still wearing black surgical gloves. He just finished cutting a customer’s hair and has a few minutes to spare before his next appointment. Hip-hop is blaring from the speakers and Throne Barbershop’s 10 chairs are in use on this busy afternoon. Diamante walks over to a giant shelf near the entrance of the second-floor space at Yonge and Gerrard in Toronto and picks up a baseball bat. “Best cut in the league!” is scribbled in silver Sharpie on the black lumber by its former owner, Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin. Other game-used bats rest on the shelf—Toronto teammates Kevin Pillar and Troy Tulowitzki donated their hardware—in addition to a baseball autographed by Marcus Stroman and a Pillar bobblehead. There’s also a basketball signed by each member of the 2016–17 Toronto Raptors.

Not all of Diamante’s jewels are on display in the shop, though; he keeps his most cherished items at home. Among those are an Edwin Encarnacion custom Marucci bat, a signed Aaron Sanchez jersey and a rare No. 54 Stroman from the days before the pitcher switched to No. 6. “Those are the grail,” Diamante says.

The mementos lend the shop character, sure, but more than anything they attest to a single, undeniable truth: The 26-year-old holds a hair-cutting monopoly on Toronto’s professional athletes. Diamante is the main home barber of the Blue Jays, while his business partner, Brian Lat, deploys his clippers on the Toronto Raptors. The two split duties when it comes to Toronto FC players and various celebrities living and passing through the city, including rappers Kardinal Offishall, French Montana and Bun B.

In just five years, Diamante and Lat have taken Throne from an overlooked, dingy basement outfit to a thriving shop that caters to everyone from students to stars. Now, hats with the Throne logo can be spotted all over Toronto, including in the Blue Jays clubhouse at Rogers Centre, where Diamante is a frequent visitor. Prior to a game in April, Pillar sums up Diamante’s connection to the team simply: “He’s part of our family here.”

Diamante kept a binder during his first year in the criminology program at Toronto’s Centennial College. It held all his course material, but at the back there was a small section devoted to his hobby. He cut neighbours’ hair in the basement of his mother’s Markham, Ont., home and saved photos of his best work.

His professor noticed the snapshots and one day approached Diamante. “He pulled me aside and said, ‘Josh, you seem distracted. But you’re holding up a good grade,’” recalls Diamante. “He asked me, ‘Are you doing anything on the side?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, cutting hair in my basement.’ He actually encouraged me to take the summer, cut at home and see where it goes. I haven’t seen him since.”

By the time he was 19, and less than two years after leaving college, Diamante had assumed co-ownership — aided by a friend’s investment — of a small shop near the Markham-Scarborough border that quickly grew into a talked-about success. One day in 2011, he received an unexpected call from James Johnson, who had just been traded to the Raptors from the Chicago Bulls. Johnson was new to the city and on the hunt for a good barber. He’d struck up a random conversation at a downtown restaurant with two people who advised him to check out Diamante’s place. So the six-foot-nine, 250-pound power forward made the call then hopped in his Mercedes-Benz G-Class and headed for the suburbs.

When he arrived, Johnson saw that Diamante had closed just for him. Select family and friends were relaxing and playing video games. “I really felt inspired about his shop,” Johnson says of that first visit. “How they treated people. How everyone was genuine. That was way before I knew the skill level of his cuts.”

Johnson took an instant liking to Diamante because of what he describes as the barber’s humble-yet-confident attitude. “I’ve been to a lot of barbershops where people cut my hair for the first time and a lot of them are star struck, really talk a lot and take a long time because they don’t want to mess up the biggest chance they’ve had so far in their career,” says Johnson. “It wasn’t like that for him … there was no ‘How do you think the season is going to go?’ Nothing like that. It was really just about my hair and what I wanted. That’s what you want out of a barbershop. You don’t want to talk basketball when you’re getting your hair cut. You want your hair to be cut as good as possible.”

Johnson spread the word to his new teammates and before long, Diamante was at the Air Canada Centre cutting for the likes of Jerryd Bayless, Ed Davis and a young DeMar DeRozan. He also did house calls, and was even invited to Johnson’s wedding in Ohio. “I didn’t think it was real,” Diamante remembers. “I was like, ‘You’re not going to invite me to your wedding.’ He’s like, ‘Bro, don’t get it twisted with the status. Keep doing what you’re doing and let your work speak for yourself. Where do you think I came from? Eating value pick meals just like you. We’re all human.’”

Adds Johnson: “He was invited to the wedding not as a barber, but as a friend. As a family member.”

Photo by Paul Bolasco

It’s easy to play up the role fate seems to have played in getting Diamante’s career off the ground — the makeshift portfolio, Johnson’s chance restaurant conversation. But it dealt immense blows, too. Most significantly, the loss of a close friend.

Christian Reventar was a few years older. One of those people who only brings good energy and encouragement to the table, he was constantly pushing Diamante to dream bigger. Along with Lat, the two opened a small basement barbershop downtown in 2013, financed out of their pockets. It had just four chairs, two of which bumped up against each other. There was no cell phone reception in the cramped, 250-square-foot unit, so they had to go upstairs or to a nearby food court to collect first-time clients, before guiding them through the maze of a building. Walk-in customers were non-existent due to the location, so the guys had to hand out flyers and stickers on the street corner. It was a hustle, but a downtown location offered enormous promise.

The trio named the shop Throne and Reventar had an idea for the slogan: “Crown of confidence.” Johnson was a loyal early supporter, stopping by to take pictures with the barbers in an effort to help build their brand. The first days were not easy by any stretch, but Reventar — true to his character — always kept spirits up and positivity flowing. When he died in an accident at a cottage mere weeks after they opened, Diamante and Lat were left reeling and contemplated closing Throne for good. “I didn’t know if I could do this anymore,” says Diamante, his eyes welling up with tears. “Financially, emotionally, mentally. There was now just two of us. I was in a dark area at the time and used cutting hair to not think about it. Every day I came into the shop I was thinking, ‘Christian is going to walk in. It’s going to be a regular day.’”

On the day of the funeral, Diamante vividly remembers breaking down as he laid eyes on the casket. Two potential paths flashed through his mind: One, he could allow all the inspiration Reventar provided to die with his friend; or two, he could honour Reventar’s memory through Throne. “We would talk about far-fetched plans,” Diamante recalls. “‘We’re going to be the best. We’re gonna provide the city with all this and they are going to love it.’

“It’s happening, only difference is he is physically not here.”

Photo by Paul Bolasco

Over the years, Diamante’s methods of attracting clientele became more savvy. When he found out Stroman was getting called up to the Blue Jays from the minors in May of 2014, he direct-messaged the pitcher on Twitter: “Yo, what’s up Stro? If you ever need anything or any cut, I got you.” It worked. Stroman responded and sought out the barber soon after arriving in Toronto. Diamante cut his hair and then took Stroman out to a day party at the Queen St. club Cube.

Sanchez was called up to the Blue Jays later that summer and when Stroman introduced him to Diamante, he quickly became a fan. Stroman and Sanchez opened the Rogers Centre doors for Diamante, bringing him to the clubhouse and introducing him to teammates.

“He was invited to the wedding not as a barber, but as a friend. As a family member.”
Kevin Malloy worked in the Blue Jays clubhouse at the time, before moving to his current role of senior manager on the visitors’ side. He let Diamante work in the wives’ lounge and kept players aware of his schedule. The team had a regular barber at their spring training complex in Dunedin, but things were looser in Toronto. Jose Bautista often brought in his own man, as did Jose Reyes, but there wasn’t a “main guy” until Diamante came along. “It’s an art for him. You can tell it’s not just a haircut, it’s an art form,” Malloy says. “Players really like him. They’re very comfortable with him.”

Pillar has known Diamante since 2014 and describes their connection as more friendship than working relationship. The two stay in touch during the off-season and meet up whenever Diamante visits Pillar’s home state of California. In-season, Pillar will sometimes stop by Throne or invite the barber to hang out at his home. “It’s just good conversation,” Pillar says. “He’s got a lot of other interests besides cutting hair. He’s a foodie, too. So, it’s always nice to talk about different restaurants in the city, places that he’s been.”

The centre-fielder usually gets a Diamante cut once each homestand and rarely seeks out a touch up from other barbers on the road. “He’s been kind enough to make himself available to us pretty much every home game,” says Pillar. “He’s always here. Takes time out of his busy, busy schedule to be here for us. We appreciate it.”

Diamante, who isn’t employed by the Blue Jays and is paid on a per cut basis, watches every road game the team plays and keeps tabs on whose hair is getting long and which fades require clippers. “After you have a good game, you normally can come in and bank on a text message from Josh with something positive,” Devon Travis, the team’s second baseman, says. “Just a good, fun guy who can really cut hair.”

Diamante especially enjoys working on beards, which earned him favour with Bautista. “Bautista does always have probably the cleanest beard in the game when it’s done,” says Travis, who also sports facial hair. “Josh takes his time when he does the beard. It’s something for sure that stands out on a baseball player. We have hats on most of the time, so the beard game has got to be on-point.”

Martin says Diamante stands out because of his versatility and mastery of so many different types of hair lengths, styles and textures. The catcher will often ask Diamante for an opinion before deciding on one of his frequent hairstyle changes. “He’s got creativity and imagination and, obviously, he’s got skill as well,” says Martin. “Guys get along with him. Super nice guy, down to earth … a class act human being.”

Photo by Paul Bolasco

Throne moved out of the basement to its current, much larger, location in 2015. A client helped Diamante and Lat with funding to secure the new space, which is just across the street from the old one. There are 13 employees, seven of whom are full-time. Diamante and Lat, who studied to be a mechanic, don’t employ anyone to help with marketing; most promotion is done through social media, particularly Instagram. “You just learn to have an eye for things and how to present,” says Diamante, admitting he’ll canvas his famous clients for advice. “Cutting hair has opened up an outlet where I’m able to meet different people, learn from their experiences and question them if I’m curious.”

Through the contacts in his Rolodex, Diamante secured an invite to a press conference for ComicCon Asia in Manila earlier this year during a visit to his parents’ homeland, the Philippines. At the event he met Manny Pacquiao, the boxer and politician who’s easily the biggest international celebrity the country has ever produced. Diamante presented Pacquiao with Throne hats and shirts and set up a date several weeks later to cut his hair. “He is a hero,” says Diamante, conceding he was star struck that time.

Following a brief return trip to Canada, the barber travelled back to the Philippines, but his luggage was delayed for five hours, with time ticking on the Friday appointment with Pacquiao, who keeps a rigid agenda. When Diamante finally got his suitcase, he realized his tools were gone. Cologne, cape, clippers, scissors, dyes, combs — the essentials were all missing. He raced around the terminal searching for replacements, but the clippers he managed to dig up just weren’t up to his standard. So Diamante got in touch with Pacquiao to let him know he had to cancel. “That was devastating to me,” he says. “If you’re a barber or tattoo artist or doctor, you have personal tools you use. That one go-to tool that no one is allowed to touch. Losing that whole set was a heartbreaker. I hope the person who took it becomes a sick barber.”

Diamante’s confident he’ll have other chances to cut Pacquiao’s hair. So it goes when you have a job that allows you to hang out with the rich and famous. That part is nice, Diamante admits, but he’s more concerned with fostering mutual respect and admiration. “When I do my services, you’re not just getting a haircut, you’re walking out with a relationship,” he says.

Diamante met Johnson, Pillar, Stroman and Sanchez during the early stages of their careers and, in a sense, has grown alongside them. “I view them as more than just a client,” he says. “As much as they like to elevate me with the things they support me with, I want to do the same for them. It is a respect thing at the end of the day.”

It’s not lost on Diamante how lucky he is, or that things could have played out in a much different fashion. “It’s a blessing,” he says. “I never really imagined I’d be cutting the Blue Jays’ or athletes’ hair.

“I just saw it as my ultimate goal to cut hair.”