Most people know 76ers center Boban Marjanovic for his size. And yeah, at 7-3, 290, he’s pretty massive. But the 30-year- old from Serbia is so, so much more than just that.
BOBAN MARJANOVIC’S BIG BASKETBALL DREAMS STARTED SMALL.
He can picture himself at 10 years old, watching the Serbia national team win the 1998 FIBA World Championship on television in his house—“Come on, make free throw!”—as Dejan Bodiroga led his country to its first gold medal in the event. He thinks back with admiration on how that group was like movie stars—Bodiroga, Sasha Danilovic before him, built up on television and in newspapers, predating the social media that’s contributed to turning Marjanovic into an international phenomenon—and remembers his goal wasn’t, at first, to play with them.
“I remember that time when I was sitting in front of the TV and I was like, Man, this is amazing,” Marjanovic says, his long 7-3 frame folded into an office chair, overlooking the retired numbers at the Philadelphia 76ers training facility between bites of his beet salad. “You know. Amazing sport. Amazing players. I wish one time, not like I can play, more like—I wish one time I could meet these people. Nobody can touch them because they’re on TV.”
This was how it started for Marjanovic, growing up in Boljevac, population 3,332. A childhood with deprivations Marjanovic says will make a great book someday, inspirational reading, “Like, you know the Rocky films? I want when somebody read my book and say, ‘Man, I want to work out. This is like an amazing story.’”
Because for Marjanovic, it’s always been a struggle. Imagine a childhood in a small village where you cannot hide, 6-10 by the time you’re 14. He remembers how it’s always been entering a room, seeing himself through the eyes of others. “There’s nothing easy because I’m the tall guy, different than everybody,” Marjanovic says. “When you look at a person — my hands, my ears, my nose, you know, like, how I walk. It was like, Man, this guy is not the same. There’s something wrong with him or he has like some disease, sickness.”
And yet there’s been this duality to how Marjanovic is viewed. The clichéd story is that the too-tall, gangly presence off the court turns into the sought-after talent on the court. This wasn’t the case forMarjanovic, not right away, and really, not even until the Sixers brought him in, along with his best friend Tobias Harris, in a deal earlier this season meant to turn the Philly roster into what general manager Elton Brand hopes is its Finals-winning form.
Basketball was simply another part of his childhood, at least at first, something to do after coming home and asking his older sister, Vesna, for help with his homework. He asked his father to take him to basketball practice at his school because his friends were going one evening. There was a little indication, he says, that a future international career and NBA star was born that day.
“We come here,” Marjanovic says. “We just start to have fun. Basically, first practice, nobody can practice like this. Most [of us] start to run or throw the ball. Like, who can throw the highest? How that shot feels like from the knees or from the chest.”
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
The SUMMER THAT WASN'T
Playground entry fences chain locked. Rims removed. Leagues canceled. Summer basketball just stopped in 2020. And as its effects extended beyond the blacktop, we were reminded why it's so important.
The sport of basketball speaks to so many people in so many ways. Dan Peterson, the founder of Project Backboard, has teamed up with artists to use the beauty of the sport to turn local courts into works of art that are accessible to all.
WHERE THERE'S SMOKE, THERE'S Fire
For former No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton, the last three years have had their ups and downs. Now that he and the Phoenix Suns are back on the way up, DA wants everyone to know that's where they're planning to stay.
As North Carolina rapper J. Cole transitioned from up-and-comer to full-blown vet, he came to a realization: staying sharp and fighting off complacency ain't easy. Inspired by his love for basketball and his desire to remain on top of the game, the 36-year-old has been treating music like a competitive sport while he readies his next project: The Off-Season.
ONE STEP AT A Time
NBA and G League vet Jeremy Lin and Loyola Marymount's Anthony Yu speak candidly about the ups and downs of being Asian American in the basketball world.
THE GARDEN Blooms
The Knicks are back. Deadass, they're back. A return to the tough, gritty, resilient style that made the teams of the past so dominant has allowed Saba Julius Randle and RJ Barrett and the Knicks an opportunity to compete for homecourt advantage in the 2021 playoffs. Facts.
CITIZEN OF THE World
Congolese native Yannick Nzosa played for professional teams in Italy and Spain before he turned 17. Now that his name is moving up the 2022 pre-draft boards, the former soccer player has one thing front and center in his mind—succeeding for his family back home.
Mental fortitude and physical toughness are what's helped Long Island's Arella Guirantes make it all the way to the W.
KICK IN THE Door
The WNBA, now in its 25th season, is the longest-running women's sports league ever. SLAM sat down with four of the most influential players of all time Diana Taurasi, Nneka Ogwumike, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Sue Bird to discuss their part in making the League the force it is today.
Can't YOU SEE
It ain't hard to tell that supernatural vision has established Nuggets star Nikola Jokic as a clear candidate for the 2021 MVP Award.