The Art Of The Barbershop Sports Debate

He who speaks the loudest wears the crown.

I was eight years old when I learned my mom was the type of woman that can’t just chill. She walked into my room on some “Who’s The Boss” shit with an “I got you a job at the barbershop” declaration like some sort of tyrant. At the time, I was absolutely disgusted at the thought of spending my summer days sweeping hair for nickels instead of playing hours of Crash Bandicoot on PS1, but little did I know, it would be one of the most influential experiences of my adolescent life.

I learned how to play chess at my barbershop; I learned how to reach into a vending machine from the bottom and grab a pack of bag of Gardetto’s at my barbershop; I learned to always get your money up front, otherwise Anthony might not pay you for a week because he thinks shit is sweet (a.k.a. The Freelancer’s Struggle) at my barbershop; but most importantly: I learned how to win any sports debate ever formed against me in my barbershop.

Ya see, for Black men, the shop isn’t just a place to get your hairline tightened; it’s a cultural safe space for all hot takes and illogical opinions. It’s the only place in the world where you can walk in empty handed and leave with a Boosie fade; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 on DVD 2 days after its release; and an intense hate for your fellow man because you can’t understand how he can say Shaq wasn’t a great basketball player, he was just bigger than everyone. Basically, it’s Twitter in its most physical form, minus the egg avatars that wake up everyday ready to turn your mentions into Fenway Park.

I’ve been going to the same barbershop for nineteen years and to this day I’ve never heard anyone make a good point. Not my barber Will, not the other barbers (Dexter, Anthony, Damon, Stan), not the regulars, not even Charles, the dude who NEVER gets a haircut, but still spends hours upon hours of his Saturday at the shop because he hates his family; nobody. They just ramble and ramble and ramble until it’s finally time to go home, never reaching an actual point of understanding on ANYTHING. It’s incredible.

The principles of the barbershop sports debate are simple: being right is not the goal, getting under people’s skin is. Because if the goal was to be right, you wouldn’t hear 87% of the things you hear people say. Knowing that, you have to know how to navigate through the debates without getting too emotionally invested, else your entire day, week, maybe even month will be ruined. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Rule #1: *Desus & Mero Voice* Facts Don’t Matter

If you’re an ol’ Bookworm Jim-face ass then don’t even step into the dojo because you aren’t fit for combat. Most people*should* base their opinions on provable happenings, statistics, and general knowledge, but at the barbershop, all you need is determination and delivery. If you say what you have to say in a Yo-I-Really-Believe-This-Tho tone of voice then for some reason, people will let you get a stupid point off. And in the event that you actually are wrong, don’t even acknowledge it. I once saw a drifter, in an Emmitt Smith jersey, argue for 37 straight minutes (I know because I kept looking at my watch as Will continued to interject while cutting my hair) that Romo was Aikman’s back up, look at a Google search of the years they played, and respond “Oh well, fuck that shit anyway.” Not “Damn, I was wrong.” “Oh well, fuck that shit anyway.”

Rule #2: Volume Prospers

You know how they say “The loudest man in the room is the weakest man in the room”? At the barbershop, it’s the complete opposite. He who speaks the loudest wears the crown. You don’t even need to be stating a point; as long as you’re yelling at the top of your lungs, whatever you’re saying is correct. Don’t believe me? Watch that Joe Budden-Lil Yachty episode of Everyday Struggle. Joe Budden has been barbershop-arguing for so long that he literally cannot grow hair anymore. You know why LaVar Ball doesn’t bother me? Because I’ve seen hundreds of LaVar Balls in my lifetime. I’ll probably see 6 more this Saturday. Just mix minimum rationale with maximum volume and you’re good to go.

Rule #3: Your High School JV Career Qualifies as Professional Experience

If you dropped 27 on Western Heights JV in 9th grade then you’re DEFINITELY qualified to speak on everything Russell Westbrook does wrong. It is perfectly okay for you to sit in the empty chair, even though the flyer on the mirror clearly reads Chairs For Customers Only, and spit out lies about how you were supposed to go D1, but coach didn’t like you. Because same. “Politics,” right? And then, to further prove your credibility, you have to double down by saying if you had Kevin Durant’s height, with your Iverson-like skillset, you would’ve been better than Jordan. That way, when people ask who you are to say Paul George is trash, you can securely respond “A legend. Ask about me.”

Rule #4: If All Else Fails, Get Physical

If you’ve never seen a man get punched out over a Cowboys-Eagles argument then don’t tell me you’ve been in the trenches. Don’t. Do not. Because you haven’t. But I have, and physical altercation is something you need to be prepared for in the event that keeping it real goes wrong. Not only have I seen it, but I’ve been in it. This one time I got into a Kobe-McGrady argument that resulted in a one-on-one situation for the ages. Dexter, the dumbest of people I’ve ever met and the most underworked barber in the shop, once told me that McGrady was better than Kobe because he doesn’t have to waste effort on playing defense. His argument was that Player A was better than Player ‘Be (see what I did there) because he only participates in 50% of the game. I couldn’t believe it. Not only are you not about to tell me that Tracy Never-Won-A-Damn-Thing McGrady is better than Kobe, but you’re not about to justify it with some shit like that. Nah. Not while I sit here in a pair of Adidas Kobe II Moon Boots, you won’t.

I was always the kid that kept a Harry Potter book in hand, but I also kept a basketball on deck at all times like a young Arthur Agee. So I replied “If defense isn’t important, then guard me and see what happens.” Dex replied “Shit, where ya lil ball at?” In hindsight, this exchange had absolutely nothing to do with the issue at hand, but I was twelve years old, you can’t expect me to have the social skills to solve my problems verbally instead of physically. Maybe the 36-year-old adult should have objected, but that’s simply not how things work around these parts.

We step outside, I check the ball to Dex, he checks it back to me. Keep in mind, this was at the height of the And-1 era so OF COURSE I immediately bounced the ball off of his face to let him know that I wasn’t just happy to be here. He gets up on me, then I hit him with the crossover-nutmeg-bring back like a young Hot Sauce and THAT BOY’S ANKLES BUCKLE.

You ever seen a 36-year-old man in a pair of FUBU Force 1s fall to the pavement in slow motion? I have. You ever seen a 36-year-old man retaliate by pushing a not-even-teenage kid that yanked his soul to the ground because he got embarrassed in front of a shop full of professional roasters? I have. My shop has. That He Got Game scene? That kid was acting; I was living. If you aren’t ready to fight a child over a senseless argument, then don’t tell me you love sports. We don’t believe you, you need more people.