Boban Marjanovic Is So Much More Than His Size
Slam|May - June 2019

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.

Howard Megdal

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.”

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