On a warm afternoon in San Jose, a black Mercedes C300 pulls up in an alley behind Santa Clara Street. A tall man exits the car, enters through the back door of a small barbershop, passes a red pool table, and parks himself on a barber chair.
“What’s good, K.B?” Tavion Maultsby shouts across the room.
The two shake hands, talk over haircut specifics, and Maultsby starts cutting, as rapper YG plays over the speakers. For the following 30 minutes, the two chat about recent trips to Los Angeles, rap music, football, and more.
As conversation flows, a young, Hispanic man sitting on an adjacent chair double-takes at the customer with a knowing glance.
“Wait, you’re Kendrick Bourne,” he says.
“What’s up, bro,” says Bourne, smiling.
Every two weeks, Bourne, a second-year 49ers receiver, visits the Barbers Inc Barbershop in Downtown San Jose for a haircut from Maultsby, whom everyone calls “Tee.” The corner shop welcomes customers from all walks of life, whether pastors, single moms, or professional football players.
Bourne has come here for the past 18 months, shortly after he signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent. Word had spread throughout the 49ers locker room about Maultsby, a laid-back, talented barber who clicked with each player who sat in his chair.
With time, he became the team’s de facto barber.
Ever since last year’s OTAs, Maultsby has attended the 49ers facilities, where he sets up shop in the team’s bathroom, just down the hall from the showers, and cuts the hair you see on television. Whenever players need a last-minute cut, they text Maultsby, who typically finds time.
Maultsby’s work with the 49ers has validated his move from the South to the West Coast, where he has taken his barbering career to another level.
BORN TO BARBER
Maultsby grew up in barbershops out of circumstance.
As a kid, his father, Larry, and mother, Nete, operated a hair salon together in Haines City, Florida. When Maultsby was in elementary school, he would spend his time before school, after it, and the weekends watching his parents work.
The Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians hosted Spring Training in nearby Davenport. In that two-month window, players frequently dropped by the shop. Many were surprised to see a 10-year-old Maultsby standing on a milk crate and cutting hair as if he were a full-time employee. When players were in a rush, and Maultsby was unoccupied, they made their way to his chair. Larry handed his son a pair of clippers.
“It was fun, it was funny, and it was kind of rewarding,” Larry said. “I said, ‘Well, maybe he will take this craft, he will learn it, and he will do more out of it than what I did.’ And he did, even though I ended up eventually owning two other shops. But never at the level that Tee is doing it. I am really proud of him.”
One of Maultsby’s customers was D.J. Johnson, a popular personal trainer who was a body guard for Bubba Stewart, a motocross star who grew up in Haines City. Johnson wore a bald head. Whenever he entered the shop, he would let Maultsby shave his head. Everyone in the room laughed — other than Maultsby.
He just wanted to do something to keep him occupied. When his classmates played outside or watched cartoons on the weekends, he spent time in the barbershop as his parents worked. His proximity to the craft actually strayed him from a future career in it.
“I am trying to do everything else other than being a barber,” Maultsby recalls. “I don’t want to do that.”
Once he entered high school, he sought independence with other jobs. He worked in construction and landscaped. He worked for Lowe’s and multiple fast food chains. But he didn’t feel those gigs were worth the middling paychecks, so he re-focused on school. He attended Palm Beach State College, where he majored in dental hygiene. Once boredom kicked in, he dropped out.
“I wanted to make money, and I wanted to make money fast,” Maultsby said.
So he turned to his creative side.
Back in middle school, Larry took a night college class that required him to craft a painting for the final project. He consulted Maultsby, who took over the project and rewarded Larry with an ‘A’ grade. Maultsby’s artwork and paintings, which Larry calls “immaculate,” were frequently displayed in local shopping malls.
He considered pursuing painting but realized he couldn’t name any wealthy painters. He pondered becoming a tattoo artist. That, too, would not seem to work.
“I was thinking it wasn’t realistic,” Maultsby said. “I had never seen a black tattoo artist at that time.”
By default, Maultsby fell back on what he knew best: barbering. He completed year-long cosmetology school at Ridge Career Center. His parents had opened separate shops — Larry operated a barbershop and Nete worked a hair salon. Maultsby bounced back and forth working between the two, honing many skills that molded him into the complete barber he is today. He learned to cut hair of men and women of all ethnicities.
When he was finally given his own chair in Larry’s shop, however, Maultsby didn’t inherit much of a clientele. Even his classmates went to Larry for their haircuts because they always had. Whenever one of Larry’s customers needed artwork, Maultsby crafted the design. Slowly, his talent started to shine, and his chair started to fill up. By fall of 2016, Maultsby’s clientele had grown so large that he eclipsed 10,000 followers on Instagram (tee_dabarber).
His life changed in June of 2016 at Orlando’s annual international hair premiere. Maultsby met Dave Diggs, who owns the Barbers Inc shop in San Jose. The two exchanged information. After learning more about Maultsby’s success and vision for the future, Diggs offered him a spot in his shop.
“One thing I noticed is that he was focused on growing his career,” Diggs said. “From his perspective, he had accomplished what he could do in that area.”
Maultsby’s uncle, Robert Sanders, has lived in the San Jose area since 1978. That comfort, combined with the possibilities of growing his brand in a major market, convinced Maultsby to make a major move.
Larry encouraged the decision, feeling it was necessary if Maultsby wanted to reach his potential. It was more difficult for Nete, who had seen so many kids from their neighborhood fall short of their dreams.
“I just wanted him to be able to make it,” Nete said. “And a lot of times we don’t.”
A BRUSH WITH STARDOM
Maultsby and his coworkers suspected former 49ers guard Norman Price was just a big dude. Price had frequently visited the shop, but he was so quiet that no one knew he was a professional football player. When the woman who cut his hair moved out of the area, Maultsby inherited that responsibility and eventually discovered Price played in the NFL.
Around the same time, Maultsby met Ronald Blair during a night out, and he, too, started visiting the shop. They developed a friendship, and Blair spread the word through the 49ers locker room, filled with new faces looking for new barbers. The 49ers retain just 12 players from their 2016 team.
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S/O to the homie @superblair for stopping by the new @thebarbersinc_sssj location today and getting cut up by me once again … I appreciate you fam💯#barbershop #barberlife #49ersbarber #faded #gameday #goniners #49ers #sanjosebarber #barbershop #polkcounty #barbersinc #westernbarberconference
“It went word of mouth like crazy,” Maultsby said.
Maultsby’s business skyrocketed during the 49ers rookie program in mid-June of last year. Bourne, Joe Williams, Tim Patrick, and Darrell Williams Jr.— all rookies at the time — visited Maultsby one night. Bourne, the only of those players remaining with the 49ers, has been a customer ever since.
“You got a good barber you can count on,” Bourne said. “Just always having a clean cut, knowing your cut is clean, it’s all that matters. You are going to be confident going out whatever you are doing, playing in the game.”
The 49ers flooded the shop by position group. Williams spread the word to fellow defensive linemen Solomon Thomas and D.J. Jones. From there, the 49ers secondary — including K’Waun Williams, Jimmie Ward, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Adrian Colbert — trickled in.
Last year, Colbert needed a haircut three days before San Francisco’s season finale against the Los Angeles Rams. His barber was not available. So he tagged along with his roommate, 49ers receiver Victor Bolden, on a late night visit to Barbers Inc.
“I thought it was pretty cool that he stayed and cut us up that late,” Colbert said. “He did a real good job with it, too. I have been going to Tee ever since.”
Colbert said it’s difficult to find the right barber when you move to a foreign place, particularly California, where most well-known barbers inflate their prices. Maultsby’s asking price was by no means low, but Colbert was pleased with the service. The cut was executed well. And Maultsby, who prides himself on being natural with everyone, did not shower Colbert with special treatment.
“When you go to a barbershop, people are flooding you with questions about football and asking for tickets and all kind of stuff like that,” Colbert said. “It’s kind of annoying. He is real cool, laid back, like one of the guys.”
Today, Maultsby cuts 38 of the 53 players on the 49ers active roster. He has developed relationships with each of them, cultivated through unique conversations.
Bourne and Maultsby like to talk about jewelry. Thomas is funny but quiet. Malcolm Smith chats with Maultsby and his coworkers about coaching Pop Warner youth football. Marquise Goodwin and Maultsby clicked when they realized their many similarities —family-oriented, South natives, and fashion connoisseurs.
Each conversation goes a bit differently. So does each haircut.
Goodwin prefers his high-natural cut —the most extravagant on the team, Maultsby says — nearly bald on the sides and woven into the top, where he wears his hair long. A double-V line inscribed on the back of his head requires intricacy from Maultsby.
Cassius Marsh’ haircut is short on the sides with his bangs flowing outward. His straight hair requires Maultsby to use only shears. Bourne’s cut — a short wave that blends into a taper on top— takes about 30 minutes. He wears a similar style as Williams and Ward.
Colbert wears long locks on top, blended into a fade, similar to Jerick McKinnon.
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What a great way to welcome @jetmckinnon1 to the bay… A cut by myself and a dope retwist by @vicecutter can’t wait to see you in action fam… Welcome to @thebarbersinc family #tagteamchampions 🔌: @andisclippers 📸: @vicecutter #andisnation #sponsored #49ers #49ersbarber #49ersstylist #bayareabarber #faded #sanjosebarber #sanfranciscobarber #santaclarabarber
Maultsby’s versatility, groomed over 15-plus years of professional barbering, equips him for any type of cut.
“If you are a master barber, you have to be able to cut all hair textures,” Diggs said. “That’s one thing Tee is great at. It doesn’t matter what your race is, what your hair texture is, he can give you a great haircut.”
A STAR IS BORN
Last May, in the moments before Maultsby set up shop at Levi’s Stadium for the first time, he called his parents. His dad encouraged him. His mom said a prayer with him.
Maultsby made his way into the stadium, checked in with security, and was escorted past framed photos of Hall of Famers and crests of the team’s five Super Bowl wins. The locker doors swung open to blank stares.
“All the attention just turned to me,” Maultsby said. ‘”Who is this dude walking in?’ It was crazy, bro. It was crazy. I had the jitters.”
Once his first haircut started, he settled in. He soon realized the players are normal people who talk about normal things. Maultsby clicked with the guys who hail from the South.
Maultsby typically visits Levi’s Stadium twice per week. He leaves his schedule flexible enough to allow for last-minute cuts, whether late nights or early mornings on game day.
Whenever his client removes his helmet on television, he exults.
“’Hey, that’s my haircut! That’s my haircut!’” Maultsby says. “It feels like I am part of the team.”
Despite the locker room service, many of the players prefer visiting Maultsby at Barbers Inc.
“They are like one of my teammates,” Bourne said of Maultsby and his Barbers Inc coworkers. “I really treat them like that. So, I really like coming to this barbershop. I am always going to be here. They are family to me now, for real.”
Diggs has created a laid-back environment that provides players with an escape from football. The employees treat the players no differently from other customers, even when they pull up outside in Ferraris and Bentleys.
“It’s like, ‘Wow, that is $1 million in cars, sitting right on Santa Clara Street in front of a little hole-in-the-wall barbershop,” Diggs said. “Just to create an environment where the players feel comfortable coming here, and they enjoy coming here, to me, that is special.”
Diggs brought on Maultsby so he could grow his career. He has done that in a short time. His connections with the 49ers have opened lanes to other teams. Maultsby now has clients playing for the Rams, Chargers, Texans, and Saints.
He foresees his brand growing as he continues working with public figures. He hopes to collaborate on-set with actors and actresses, create a product line, and open multiple barbershops and hair salons.
“I think about (the future) so much, sometimes I can’t sleep,” Maultsby says.
Maultsby’s proudest future endeavor connects him to his hometown. He wants to start an outreach center, providing after-school education, sports training, tutoring, and independent living skills to young males.
Back home, Larry frequently runs into Maultsby’s former customers — whether 70-year-old women or men in their mid-20s — asking about his progress. While he wants to expand his clientele even larger, he plans to use his success as a model for those growing up in the same neighborhood, with similar dreams.
“What motivated me the most,” Maultsby says, “is I wanted the youth where I am (to see) that there are other ways to get the nice things you want out of life than doing the wrong things we have seen growing up.”
Brad Almquist is KNBR’s 49ers beat writer. Follow him on Twitter @Bradalmquist13.