BOBAN MARJANOVIC sings. A minute ago Boban was talking about growing up in Serbia, being 7-foot-4 and playing for them Dallas Mavericksbut now he’s drumming a Vanessa Carlton song in heavily accented English with the joy and energy of a devoted tween.
“I would run a thousand miles … if I could see you TODAY,” he sings, laughing so hard that his shoulders, about the size of two split logs, roll up and down. It’s “A Thousand Miles,” the anthem from the movie “White Girls,” which Boban readily admits, is one of his favorites. “I really love this movie,” he says.
Those kinds of things – Boban sings, Boban giggles, Boban smiles so much that it looks like he’s going through a wall – happens a lot. To be in Boban’s presence basically means everyone who knows him to feel the indescribable warmth that arises when you are with someone who feels so comfortable in their own skin.
Former teammate Tobias Harris, one of Boban’s best friendssays Boban is unusually obliged to just be himself. You can see it most in the little things, like Boban’s deep and constant love of soup. He grew up eating soup all the time – “in my country for breakfast, not allowed, but for lunch and dinner, yes” – and he doesn’t apologize for wanting to have it in every setting all the time. “No matter which restaurant we go to,” says Harris. “We could go to Popeye or whatever and he’ll be like, ‘Do you have soup? Do you have soup?'”
Whatever the subject, Boban speaks with the tenderness of a beloved warehouse advisor and the clarity of your favorite professor. When telling a story about losing all of the photos on his phone, he concludes, “So, you know, I don’t believe in iCloud.” There are plenty of jokes out there too, some unsuitable for family-friendly reading and some that come with his big grin – “What do you call a cow on a roller coaster? … milkshake!” – that perfectly tiptoe along the line between hokey and hilarious.
Boban is amazingly tall too, and when he stretches his arms wide (his wingspan is 94 inches) it seems like a giant pterodactyl has suddenly flown in. Besides, it turns out, this velociraptor is chatting about how Luka Doncic “has a great taste for music,” and then he yells, “Woooo!” like Ric Flair and giggles so hard it makes his chest heave, and who wouldn’t want to hang out with a pterodactyl like that in the end?
Boban calls himself a “big, kind giant” and believes that warmth is his most important attribute. He’s happiest when kids who approach him for pictures have no idea he is playing in the NBA. they simply see him as a colossus who, however inappropriate it may be, feels safe. “The same goes for dogs,” he says. “When dogs go to me, they feel this energy. The dogs feel the most and the children – the children and the dogs are my goal. Because both of them only want to be with a good person.”
By statistical standards, Boban is not a legendary NBA player. He is 32 years old. He is on his fifth team. He’s averaged 4.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 8.2 minutes a night for the Mavericks this season and hasn’t played at all in many games.
And yet: Boban is an undeniable star. He’s in the commercial. He’s in YouTube sketches. He has non-fungible tokens for sale. He’s the main attraction on a website for the sole purpose of posting pictures of him holding things – fruit, toys, other people’s faces – in his massive hands.
Boban’s unwavering seriousness is the engine behind it all, the driving force behind the energy that emanates from the Mavericks as a group. “It’s like having a cute dog in the locker room,” says Mav’s owner Mark Cuban (who then clarifies the specifics of a Boban-sized dog, “like 40 Great Danes or German Shepherds stacked on top of each other”).
“Not that Bobi is a puppy or anything, but he just has this joy in himself that just comes out of him and that’s just – I mean, it’s contagious.”
It might be a little sweet, but it’s also real. Boban’s personality is rooted in his lived experiences, in a life in which he used good nature and joy in his sport in order to block out a story that wasn’t always so exciting. And that personality is the reason why the teammates standing with him and the fans who cheer him on see him as something extraordinary.
It’s also why a fifth seed backup center in the Western Conference is very likely to be your favorite player’s favorite player.
EVERY CONVERSATION ABOUT This season’s Mavericks will likely begin and end with Doncic. That is understandable; If the Mavs can create a surprise against the Clippers, who they play 1-0 in the first-round playoff series on Tuesday night, it is almost certainly due to Doncic, one of the rising stars in the NBA and a global phenomenon.
But Doncic is also an avid Boban buddy / fan / enabler. And it’s not hard to say that Boban could be the most famous player on the Mavericks after Doncic, in addition to being the team’s spirit guide.
The Cuban describes Boban’s connection with Doncic as “very paternal” and highlights it as a crucial element in Doncic’s development. Boban’s stance, says Cubans, “sets it all up” around the entire franchise.
Part of that Link between Doncic and Boban comes from a shared Balkan heritage (Doncic is Slovenian), and during last year’s NBA bubble the two hosted a dinner with a range of international players that included lots of meat and an eclectic mix of local music on “up the battery”, according to Boban is empty.” Recently, a clip of Boban and Doncic dancing an elaborate Serbian dance arm in arm while warming up before the game went viral, as did the video of Boban and Doncic wearing surgical masks rocking to “Barbie Girl”. The Mavs social media team took advantage of this and created an animated “Luka & Bobi” series in which the two players get into mischief to different degrees.
Doncic seems to enjoy watching Boban do it … well, pretty much anything. And while Doncic isn’t nearly as sociable as Boban in interviews, it’s clear that Doncic finds solace in knowing that Boban is his human equivalent to a daily shot of espresso.
“He’s amazing,” says Doncic. “You don’t meet these people every day, you know. He’ll help you anytime. It’s just great to have him here.”
However, the most endearing part of Boban’s reputation in the NBA is that the people on his own team aren’t the only ones who love him.
Referee Ed Malloy, looking battered, put an apologetic hand on Boban’s arm and gently informed him he had been thrown out After Boban accidentally committed an apparent foul during a game in April and last August during a game between the Mavs and Clippers, microphones picked up an unusual problem on the court Exchange between Boban and Clippers striker Marcus Morris.
“You are maybe the nicest guy I’ve ever met, man,” says Morris when Boban beams. “I’ll give this to you, baby,” said Morris – the one, to reiterate, on the one different team — continues. “You are my type. My type.”
Harris, who got close to Boban when they played the Pistons together in 2016, says he’s not surprised by Morris’s feeling, largely because what sets Boban apart is his dedication to making sure the People around him are happy. And by that, Harris confirms, he means literally every single person, including strangers.
“Sometimes we went to dinner,” says Harris, “and one thing for me is that it’s a little rude when people show up and want to take pictures when we eat. But he would say that.” , “No, no, no, come on, get up. [Boban says “brate,” the equivalent of “bro” in Serbian, a lot.] He will say, “Fry you don’t know if they’re having a bad day.” And I say, ‘All right, let’s take a picture …’ “
Harris laughs. “I see him as my best friend, but if you ask a lot of people in the league who have played with Boban, they would all say they see him as a very good friend.”
This, of course, is exactly what Boban wants most in life. And when I ask him where he got the relentless assertiveness it takes to become the NBA’s Mr. Congeniality, he doesn’t hesitate.
“My whole family, that’s how it is,” he says.
“I come from a small town, 3,000 people.” Boban laughs. “This is the place on earth where they give you the good energy.”
Boban was born 1988 in Boljevac in Eastern Serbia. By 1991, the entire region was caught up in a series of bloody wars between the nations of the former Yugoslavia over ethnicity, identity and independence, which historians have dubbed the deadliest wars in Europe since World War II. The fighting lasted for a decade.
“We slept in the same room – my mother, my sister and I because we want to be together in case something happens,” recalls Boban of the two-month NATO air strikes in 1999. “When you hear the noise of aircraft, you’re scared. You’re trying to find a place to go, you can’t be on the street. “
It’s the only moment – and the only subject – that he feels uncomfortable. “I hope I never feel this again in my life,” he says, and it is impossible not to see these experiences as the origin story for Boban’s ever-present sense of joy: how can you get out of this and not be? grateful for where he is now?
Boban discovered basketball when he was 10 years old. Though he was unusually tall – there’s an old picture of him in first or second grade where he’s about the size of his teacher – he didn’t even try to dip a basketball until he was 15.
That seems incredible, but Boban says it just never crossed his mind. Although in reality he was much taller than anyone else, Boban said he just assumed he should handle the ball and dribble like other players.
That changed one day in training when a coach finally yelled at him: “Hey! You! You should dip every ball!”
“How?” Boban asked and the trainer just waved on the edge. “Just go dive once – try it,” said the trainer, so Boban ran over and took a dip without doing much more than a jump.
“Wow! That’s super easy!” Boban was crying.
“Now go diving with two hands!” the trainer yelled back. Boban hesitated. “There’s no way I can do that with two hands,” he told the coach, and the coach waved again. “Try it!” Of course, Boban punched the ball easily with two hands. “That feels so amazing!” He screamed.
“That’s when I found out that I was a little good,” he says now.
Boban was addicted. Finding shoes and clothes that would fit him remained a challenge – there was a consensus in Boljevac that anyone who stumbled upon something oversized in a store within an hour’s drive should call Boban’s family immediately – but be in the square , became a joy. Boban was only 17 when he made his professional debut for the Serbian club Hemofarm.
He moved abroad in 2010 and played two seasons in Russia and Lithuania before returning to Serbia in 2012 and starting a track where he was named MVP of the Serbian League for three consecutive seasons.
It wasn’t just dunks, either. Boban had developed incredible strength and was practically immobile outside the low block. He wreaked havoc by either hitting the ball himself or by sweeping up ricochets with ease. He set a EuroLeague record for doubles doubles in a single season.
“He became an offensive force,” says Fran Fraschilla, the former college coach who is an expert on international perspectives. Fraschilla recalls first seeing Boban as a spindly teenager in 2007. By 2015, Boban had transformed into a different player. “He became a Serb [Shaquille O’Neil] in the EuroLeague, “says Fraschilla.” For NBA teams, the light went on that this kid would have the chance to play in the NBA. “
IT WOULD BE easy to consider Boban as a novelty. We do this all the time with athletes and reduce them to the point where they are defined solely by their physical characteristics. Take Manute Bol. He was thoughtful, generous, and an incredible humanitarian aid, but most remember him more as a spindly 7-foot-7.
Bol, it was said, never liked being noticed because of its size. Boban, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to care about questions outwardly – he proudly shows off how he used to ride airliners and pulled his knees to his chest – mostly because he sees it as just another sliver of who he is. It’s big – it should take up a lot of space.
“There’s a lot of Boban,” he says. “I love being tall. Maybe I don’t look perfect, but I’m a normal person like everyone else.”
This philosophical mantra has also proven itself for him in basketball. Since Boban arrived in the NBA with the Spurs in 2015, he has been incredibly effective when he’s on the field. Right now he has the eleventh highest player efficiency rating in NBA history – which puts him on a par with names like Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain – Even so, he always tried to find consistent minutes.
The main reason? Boban is a traditional center at a time when nobody is playing the center anymore. As Cuban says: “When a team gets small against him and [has] Five 3 point shooters, they will do 3s and he will do 2s. As simple as that. “
Fraschilla also complains that Boban was born in the wrong generation. “Many of us who have been to the NBA for a long time feel like Boban came along in the 80s and 90s that he could actually be a star,” he says.
For his part, Boban is not interested in thinking about the fact that in just one of his NBA seasons he averaged more than 10 minutes per game. He doesn’t think the league owes him anything just because he’s big, and he sees no reason to be angry or frustrated that he might have played 25 minutes a night at a different time like the Pacers “dunking.” Dutchman “Rik Smits.” I live in this world, “he says.
And in many ways, he’s become such a star anyway. Sure, his fame is for being seditious on Bobi & Tobi, his YouTube series with Harris, and not getting 20 points and 10 rebounds every night. But the question he keeps coming back to when asked about it is: So what?
Boban’s feeling is that he doesn’t need NBA minutes to validate his experience. he just longs for the experience itself. Here Boban plays arcade basketball at the State Fair of Texas. This is where Boban goes fishing in the NBA bubble with other players. Here Boban drives an ATV that looks like a tricycle under its massive frame. Here Boban makes a cherry pie with his wife and two children and then serves a double portion because she is “Boban-sized”.
Here’s Boban, who, as many believe, is the biggest episode of “Bobi + Tobi” that shows up on a SoulCycle with Tobi, only to find out he was tapped to actually teach the class that day. Boban sits calmly on the bike and leads the class with a mixture of encouragement, weird belittling of Harris’s performance, and bizarre (but strangely inspiring) nonsense, like yelling at the class, “Texas – yes, I like their goat Milk, but don’t listen to the goats. Listen to me! “
It’s a lovely encapsulation of Boban’s existence in many ways, often sweaty, hilarious, and frothy like a soda bottle that’s been shaken so hard it can’t stop hissing. Boban is one of those people who just wants to see and do things and try things out and be things. He wants other people to feel more than himself. The Cuban mentions that he introduced Boban to some acting coaches, and he says that Boban’s personality could make him the most famous entertainment star in NBA history (he suggests that Boban would be perfect for a potential “Princess Bride 2”).
In truth, it’s not all that absurd: Boban’s IMDb site already has significant credit. When he went to a training session in 2018, he received a text message from his agency stating that Chad Stahelski, the director of “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum”, was interested in casting him in the film. Stahelski wanted an actor who was “funny and interesting yet gigantic,” he told the Wall Street Journal, and one of the producers, Basil Iwanyk, happened to be a basketball fan and suggested Boban.
From his memory, Boban immediately replied “yes” to the message seven times and ended up portraying an assassin attempting to kill Keanu Reeves’ title character in a library. (Spoiler: He fails and is murdered with a book by John Wick.)
“When you were standing there practicing a scene with Keanu Reeves, I thought, ‘Are you serious? It’s really Keanu?’” Boban says, adding that the experience was “incredible”. He cackles. “I’ve been so professional, I have to be honest with you.”
IF MILICA KRSTIC She first met Boban at a party in 2007, she wasn’t particularly interested in him. But Boban kept texting her – with jokes, stories and lots of emojis – and she found herself engaged to him. And enjoy it.
They had talked for a couple of weeks when Boban suddenly disappeared on New Year’s Eve and Milica wondered if he might be just like the others.
She quickly learned that it wasn’t him.
It turned out that Boban’s friends at the party they were attending had stolen his phone from him because they wanted him to play hard to get it. After Boban found his cell phone, he called Milica and did a trait. “Hey,” he asked her, “do you want to be my girlfriend or what?”
She did. They’ve been together ever since, and Milica says what ultimately drew her to Boban was that honesty and openness.
“He’s very direct,” she says. “He’s Boban. He was always who he is now.”
So who is that exactly? Someone who clearly doesn’t mind admitting that they love “white chicks”. Someone who once thought they were going to an AC / DC concert when they were actually on a Guns N ‘Roses show (Milica: “He wrote,’ Oh, I thought it was the same … ‘ “). Someone who really enjoys folding their arms in the shape of a heart. And someone who, despite having spent most of his life flying around the world playing basketball, is still more than a little scared during the turmoil. (Harris: “The plane can only shake for a second and I take a nap and he hits me every time and he says,” Brate, the plane, the plane … “)
Boban sees none of these as weaknesses or flaws or even quirks; They are just the things that make him stand out, the things that arose from what he saw and heard in Serbia and took with him into this life in the United States. If for some reason he can’t be a dominant player on the court, then he hopes the message people get from his observation is that this massive, lumbering giant is so comfortable with his uniqueness that there is no reason is why everyone else shouldn’t. ‘I don’t feel comfortable with them.
At one point Boban mentions his ears. As expected, they are two masses of tubers that bulge in front of cartilage and pop out of the side of his head like broccoli trees.
Boban fingers one of them and laughs. “I can go to the doctor now and fix my ears,” he says. “A little here, maybe the nose [he traces imaginary cuts around his face], but why? Never be shy, never be shy about who you are “
He smiles his big, pasty, silly smile.
“When you are big,” he says, “you are big.”