A tall, fit guy walked in from Forsyth Street into Vintage The Barber Shop in downtown Atlanta. He was all alone with a baseball cap slung low over his head.
He looked around and asked for “Ray” as he grabbed a seat.
Raeford Cox glanced at his next customer. Nothing seemed familiar — at first.
Then he removed his cap and glasses.
People started to recognize him.
It’s Michael Phelps!
“We didn’t know who he was until he took off his cap,” said Cox, an Atlanta native who has been cutting hair for half of his 44 years.
The Olympian with the Midas touch.
It was July 29. Phelps, who was in town training for the 2016 Summer Games, was referred to Cox by one of his coaches, who had his hair cut there the day before.
“He was a very polite and mild-mannered gentleman,” said Cox, whose brother Travis, is also a barber in the metro area. “He took time out to talk to everyone who asked a question. He was very nice.”
Cox said it was no problem cutting his hair. Since the shop is located downtown, surrounded by businesses and restaurants, all kinds of customers with all kinds of hair make their way to Vintage.
Cox tapered Phelps’ side and took some hair off the top.
Cox knew about Phelps, of course.
Now, though, he’s a bona fide fan. Team Phelps all the way.
Phelps even posted an Instagram photo of himself surrounded by customers and staffers in the shop.
“Thanks to the boys at #vintage barber shop for the nice trim before rio!!!.” he posted to his account.
The post has nearly 73,000 likes and the story by Jerry Bembry in “The Undefeated” has gone viral.
A woman drove from Chicago. Members of a Florida swim team came in as well. They wanted to come to the same spot, sit in the same chair and get their hair cut by the same barber.
Cox has followed Phelps as he competes in Rio, where he has tied — and then surpassed — Olympic records.
“I’m much more supportive, definitely,” said Cox. “He could have gone anywhere, but he didn’t. He came here. It’s been a blessing.”
The Phelps visit has boosted business at the shop, said owner Herbert Williams.
“When you have a world-class champion come in and get his hair cut, it boosts our visibility,” Williams said.
So, will Williams name a haircut after Phelps?
“Not yet, maybe soon.”