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A Very, Very Tall Tale

Boban Marjanovic is 7-foot-3 and—no joke!—the most efficient scorer in NBA history. He’s also a career backup. Does that bother him? Less than you’d think.

Devin Gordon

BOBAN JUST BONKED his head. It happens. Not the first time, won’t be the last. When you’re 7-foot- 3, it’s a fact of life: Your head is always a collision risk. It tends to be better outdoors, but today outside the Clippers’ training facility, the parking lot is filled with four food trucks and about a dozen picnic tables shielded from the Playa Vista sun by umbrellas that bloom almost precisely at Boban height.

It’s an early October afternoon, two weeks before the start of the regular season, and for 15 minutes now, Boban has been going table to table, shaking hands with Clippers employees. Doc Rivers is right over here by the sidewalk. Jerry West, the NBA logo himself, is over there. Marcin Gortat is hitting up the Texas barbecue truck, then the beignet truck. Tobias Harris, Boban’s best friend on the team, is getting a kale salad from the superfoods truck. Boban is hungry, his Serbia-sized stomach empty and his 290-pound body depleted—practice just ended—but he won’t eat for a while. He’ll still be out here two hours from now. He’ll be the last one to leave. He’ll help pack up the chairs.

At each table, people line up to shake Boban’s hand. “You gotta shake his hand!” one guy implores his tablemate. It’s a little discomforting to hear someone say it aloud like that—a little zoo-animal-y maybe—but on the other hand, the guy is right. You really should go shake his hand. It delivers. Boban likes to cup his left hand over his right one, the one that has swallowed yours, and his palms are surprisingly soft and cool, creating an asteroid-sized cocoon with the bouncy texture of a Casper mattress. It was so nice, I wanted to crawl inside and take a nap.

Boban loves shaking hands. He gets this look every time, like, I know, right? His face has so much skin that when he smiles, his cheeks crease seven times and rise to rounded peaks like Jack Nicholson’s Joker, only Boban’s smile projects whatever the opposite of menace is. When something delights him, which happens often, he’ll let out a highpitched Òwooooooo!Ó like Ric Flair opening a birthday present. At one point on his lap through the parking lot, he ducks down to greet someone and catches his forehead on the canopy, then he laughs before anyone can worry that it might not be OK to laugh.

“I got stuck on umbrella,” he says, rubbing his forehead, all 14 of his cheeks reaching out and up, and everyone else laughs too.

His accent is thick, and just four years into his American basketball career, his English remains a work in progress. (“I think it’s actually getting worse,” one Clippers employee jokes.) It’s not from a lack of practice. Boban is the largest social butterfly in human history. Imagine everyone you meet—everyone—being delighted by the mere sight of you. Now imagine never getting tired of it. That’s Boban.

Indeed, Boban Marjanovic might well be the most popular guy in the NBA right now based on sheer approval rating. Everybody loves Boban. He has zero haters. He has melted the fickle hearts of NBA Twitter and tamed the trolls of countless NBA subreddits. He even has his own subreddit: a photo thread of Boban holding various things in his massive, perspective-warping hands. It’s called Boban Holding Things. He’s gone viral with a video of him doing something he and Harris call “The Chicken Soup Dance.” He’s gone viral for a clip of him palming the ball over Anthony Davis’ head and Davis, who is 6-10, swatting at it helplessly until he realizes Boban is messing with him and he starts to laugh. He’s gone viral for a photo of him standing next to Kristin Chenoweth, who, standing, reaches Boban’s waist. This past summer, he co-starred with Harris in the year’s best new reality series, The Bobi and Tobi Show, a three-episode love letter to the NBA’s oddest couple.

And then there’s the coup de grâce, the truest sign that we’re in the presence of an honest-to-goodness NBA icon, not to mention a masterstroke of stunt casting: Boban has a small role as a bad-guy hit man in John Wick 3, the next installment of the action franchise, which comes out in May.

Boban hits every table in the parking lot, but he never hits another umbrella with his head. Then he takes a brief detour to cheat shamelessly through a game of cornhole against Clippers assistant GM Mark Hughes. “He’s a breath of fresh air, I’ll say that,” Jerry West says. “But I think the thing people don’t know about him is how skilled he is. He is a really good basketball player.”

Finally, as the crowd starts to thin, Boban sits down with two plates of food: a slice of pizza, which is what he wants to eat, and a bowl of organic mixed greens, which he’s eating because it would mean a lot to Tobias. “He play good, he look good,” Boban says. “Maybe they help me.” Eventually, though, he puts the salad aside because his plastic fork is too small. “I can’t eat this fork.”

People keep coming up to him, and they all ask the same questions. They ask about John Wick. (“You watch some movies more than once many times? When you watch, I know what they say,” Boban raves, which I think means he’s memorized every word of the first two John Wicks.) They ask if he gets to shoot anyone. (“I’m in movie, and this is it,” Boban says with sneaky joy. “I cannot say nothing else.”) They ask what Keanu Reeves is really like. (He is very nice, Boban says.) People ask about his buddy Tobias. (Never heard of him, Boban says.)

But the thing people want to know most of all is whether Boban is going to play more this season. Is he ever going to get a real shot? Or did Boban, through some evolutionary twist of fate, miss his moment?

BOBAN MARJANOVIC’S LIFE is a modern-day fable: the gentle giant with a Disney first name who through decency and boundless charm has become a folk hero. But his career has been considerably less storybook. He is on his third team in four years. Heading into this season, he’d started just six games. He’s been a healthy scratch for nearly half his career. It’s not tragedy or anything. Boban makes $7 million a year. He’s got a house in Manhattan Beach. Two kids. He’s fine.

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February 2019

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