The Escobar Barber Shop is more than a place to get a shave and a haircut.
For decades, it’s been a place to hear stories and see the occasional celebrity.
Comedian Leopoldo “Tres Patines” Fernández has been here. So have legendary boxer Roberto “Mano de Piedra’’ Durán and former Sen. Mel Martínez.
And now, the shop at 803 SW Fifth Ave. in Little Havana, can add Miami Heat superstar LeBron James to the list.
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Escobar was the backdrop for James’ day-in-the-life commercial for the Samsung Galaxy Note II.
How did it happen?
Thomas Escobar, who with his brother, Evelio, has run the barbershop for 42 years, got a little suspicious one day when he saw someone taking photos of his business while another asked permission to tape a few scenes. Then they identified themselves as part of the team that manages the NBA star’s image and explained the purpose of the commercial.
But it was up to James to make the final call.
“They didn’t make any promises and only said that they would show the photos to LeBron and that he would make the decision,” said Thomas, born in Villa Clara, Cuba, 75 years ago. “That was a Thursday in the middle of October, and the following day about 10 trucks full of equipment came with 70 people who turned the barbershop upside down and stirred interest in the neighborhood.
“It became clear then that LeBron had liked it and that they were going ahead with the commercial.”
The production team got to work depicting two worlds: the nostalgia of a barbershop with the fast-moving communication via cellphones.
James was attracted to the shop with its photos of Cuba and old-time conversations.
“They told us they had seen and photographed other barbershops with a better look and more luxurious, but LeBron had been attracted to this one,” said Neorlando Urdanivia, a 77-year-old barber born in the Cuban city of Cienfuegos who speaks with pride of his small contribution to the commercial.
“When he arrived and got off this tremendous SUV, there was quite an upheaval. Fortunately, I was sitting outside wearing my glasses and the first thing LeBron did was to say hello to me with a fist bump. That, as everybody can see, came out very well and very natural.”
Except for that segment with Urdanivia and another brief one with Evelio Escobar, the rest of the barbershop staff remained outside during the filming. James’ personal barber cut his hair. And he was surrounded by his inner circle.
In a matter of seconds, James enters the shop asking everyone how they are and telling the barber, “I need the best, because it’s an important day.”
Meanwhile, his friends show him a video on the phone in which someone is dunking a ball. The player, impressed by the image, sends it to others.
The phone is the center of the commercial, but the barbershop steals the show.
José Pañeda, a top executive of the Heat in charge of the team’s Hispanic market, wasn’t surprised that James and his team chose the Little Havana barbershop.
“Since he came to the Miami Heat, LeBron has always felt sensitive toward the community and understands the growing importance of the Latino fan in a city like Miami,” Pañeda said. “He was recently in the Three Kings Parade on Calle Ocho and he knows that our team, because of its privileged geography, has millions of followers in Latin America.”
The video, released on Oct. 29, one day before the NBA season started, attracted interest from as far away as Russia, with people calling the barbershop to ask about James sitting in one of its chairs.
Once the filming ended and the cameras were turned off, James talked to each of the barbers and thanked them before leaving.
“Some people are saying that we are LeBron’s Cuban barbers,” Thomas Escobar said. “Because of the commercial they think that he always gets his haircuts here.
“If they ask me, I tell them the truth. But if others out there believe it, who am I to contradict them. Right?”