This past Sunday, less than 48 hours after a series of terrorist attacks left over 120 dead in Paris, France, the melody of “La Marseillaise” rang out at Madison Square Garden as the New York Knicks prepared to take on the New Orleans Pelicans. It was an emotional moment for all, but for Kevin Seraphin — a native of French Guiana and new addition to the Knicks’ roster this season — hearing the opening notes of the French national anthem forced him to fight back tears.
“I had goose bumps,” Seraphin said in a post-game interview that day. At the age of 15 he moved from Guiana to Paris, and went on to play for the French national basketball team at the 2012 Summer Olympics. “I wanted to cry, but the camera was right there, so I was like, I can’t do that.”
What the cameras did manage to capture, however, was Seraphin’s new haircut. As the power forward helped lead the Knicks to a victory over the Pelicans, scoring 12 points off the bench, fans could see the word “PARIS” emblazoned on the back of Seraphin’s head. Created by barber Marcos “Reggae” Smith, the design is a take on the classic Knicks logo, but features a peace symbol with the Eiffel Tower struck through the middle — an image that has been circulating on social media in the days following the attacks.
“He just hit me up and was like, ‘Hey, I need Paris on my head because I want to represent my country and the tragedy that happened,’” Smith, 37, tells the Voice, adding that he only had 15-20 minutes to complete the haircut before the start of the game. “I think the message it represents is peace. We’re plagued by terrorism these days — all over the world, not just in Paris. It’s a huge tragedy to lose people, innocent people.”
Born and raised on the Lower East Side, Smith has been cutting the hair of famous musicians, athletes, actors and business moguls for over two decades. He’s spent nearly his entire career at downtown’s First Choice Barbers, but started making connections in the entertainment world after an art director at Spin magazine began bringing him on photo shoots in the mid-Nineties. In the years since, he’s worked with the likes of Miguel, DJ Khaled and Omarion, gone on tour with Usher, and is currently the go-to barber for Seraphin, as well as the Knicks’ Cleanthony Early and members of the Brooklyn Nets.
But while Smith’s haircuts have often been showcased on a large stage, rarely has his work had the opportunity to truly impact so many people. Following Sunday’s game, images of Seraphin’s haircut were shared on social media by the Knicks, the NBA and ESPN, racking up thousands of likes across multiple platforms.
“It’s a bold statement,” Smith explains. “The fact that a French player on the Knicks tapped into the New York media and sent the message that he’s hurting and wants to represent his country and tell world, ‘Let’s be peaceful,’ I think that’s what really made it take off.”
To Smith, etching “PARIS” and the Eiffel Tower into Seraphin’s hair is also reminiscent of the legacy left behind by Anthony Mason, the Knicks legend who passed away earlier this year after battling congestive heart failure. During his tenure with the team in the Eighties and Nineties, Mason became known for his intricate, illustrative buzz-cuts and reputation as the Knicks’ enforcer. It’s a role Smith sees the 25-year-old Seraphin stepping into both on and off the court as he matures as a player and continues to represent his country during these trying times.
“It’s pretty exciting to just be a part of all of that,” Smith says. “It’s really not about my design, it’s about the message it projects to the world.”