Viral Sensation Boban Marjanovic Aspires to Be Like Mentor Tim Duncan

Mike Monroe@@Monroe_SAFeatured ColumnistFebruary 29, 2016

SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 26:  Boban Marjanovic #40 of the San Antonio Spurs and Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs talk during the game against the Denver Nuggets on December 26, 2015 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photos by Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty Images)
Chris Covatta/Getty Images

Without the Internet, Boban Marjanovic would be a trivial, scarcely used reserve racking up garbage minutes on the San Antonio Spurs.

But in today's world, the 7'3" rookie is so much more: a Reddit wonder, an NBA Twitter staple and, as of last week, a.. commercial spokesman?

Sean Elliott, the Spurs TV analyst who, along with Danny Green, also appeared in the commercial, called Marjanovic a natural comedian.

"Danny was likening him to Arnold Schwarzenegger delivering his lines," Elliott said. "We all cracked up."

Most NBA fans had never heard of Marjanovic when the season began, before his scoring, dunking and rebounding fits made waves. But there was more to it—pictures of the Serbian grabbing the rim with both feet on the floor, video showing his disproportionately soft shooting touch. And his hands—the largest hands in all of pro basketball, perhaps the largest in league history. 

For the Spurs, Boban Mania began the very first time he entered a preseason game in October and showed he is a basketball player, as well as an extremely large person.

Not long after, someone created a Twitter account called @DidBobanPlay.

The legend has only grown: At a San Antonio autograph session in January, more than 500 fans showed up even though only 200 were going to be allowed entrance. The venue had to post warning signs that no overnight camping would be allowed. One fan showed up with Marjanovic's portrait shaved into his head.

What a time to be a Boban.

In truth, it is Marjanovic's size—his length, his wingspan, his hands—that attracts attention. But it is his game and personality that have galvanized public interest.

"He‘s a walking science experiment and people are just attracted to that," Green said. "But the fact he's the definition of a gentle giant and very charismatic and sociable and goofy helps make him popular. He likes to have fun with people and they get a kick out of it."

Marjanovic isn't sure how he came to be so popular on social media. He has neither a Twitter nor a Facebook account. He does have an official Instagram, but he says he still hears about his popularity from friends.

"Sometimes my friends send me small stuff from Twitter, maybe one time a week, maybe two times a week," Marjanovic said. "I know a little bit about what's happening [on social media]. Maybe 10 percent, or less.

"I think I get my high with my skills. That's what makes me happy. It's not, ‘Ha ha, this guy cannot catch a ball; this guy cannot shoot.' … I feel good because I have an opportunity to show what I do and people accept this."

Chris Szagola/Associated Press

There is affirmation from his teammates about his basketball ability.

"People look at his size and think he's a big stiff," veteran big man David West said. "But Boban's a hell of a player. He gave us a big boost, just his [basketball] IQ and his size. He's not a big stiff. He can move and stays engaged in terms of the pace of the game. He's a positive for us."

Patty Mills, the Spurs' Australian point guard, understands that Boban Mania relates mostly to his size but wishes casual fans could see the engaging personality Marjanovic shows his teammates.

"Boban's a character, an honest character, and that's why the mania is a little hard to believe because people don't see that when Boban's on the court," Mills said.

"We all see it behind the scenes and that's why you could see he has a cult following, but I don't know what it is on the court unless it's just the way he plays. I know people really enjoy watching him and want him to do well and want him to succeed."

Because Marjanovic only plays 7.9 minutes per game, it's much easier to understand his effect when accounting for playing time (or lack thereof). Per 36 minutes played, the 27-year-old is averaging 23.3 points and 14.8 rebounds while shooting 61.6 percent from the field.

"I can say for myself that I am a guy that loves to work and who tries to make everybody smile," he says. "Not like making a joke but I think I make some good energy. ... I am just one nice guy who I think makes a lot of good energy and I'm happy that people recognize that. Not just fans or people from here [in San Antonio] but all my friends, what I hear, this is good."

Make no mistake: Marjanovic has skills. For one thing, he catches every pass thrown in his vicinity because his huge hands are soft. So is his shooting touch.

Don't think the big man can't finish at the rim, though.

What is most surprising about Marjanovic is his athleticism. He is no sprinter, but he runs the floor as well as many 7-footers. And he is fond of showing off his athleticism after team practices, as he did after a recent session when fellow Spurs rookie Jonathon Simmons lobbed a pass from the top of the key and Marjanovic ran from the opposite corner, caught the lob with both hands and flushed a dunk that shook the basket stanchion.

"I can do a lot of stuff that you cannot think," he said, grinning broadly. "I have a lot of good stuff I can do. I can say there is a lot of stuff you don't need to see it because that is not my job to do. I must be under the rim, not do a lot of ‘AND1' stuff, handling the ball. I just move under the basket and follow my teammates and hope that every day and every day I am better at this."

Mostly, Marjanovic has been following Spurs great Tim Duncan, who became nearly a full-time mentor after suffering a knee setback before the All-Star break.

Marjanovic picks Duncan's brain about defending in the paint because he knows his playing time is inversely proportional to the number of mistakes he makes in the Spurs' intricate defensive scheme.

"I ask Tim Duncan about that because he is the best at defense," Marjanovic said. "Really amazing, one of the best, the best, the best. You don't have to jump three meters to be the best blocker. Tim jumps, but not like some guys.

"I love when he says to me, ‘This is a small part, but your knees cannot be bent, not like legs, and your arms can be up here and not here.' This stuff has really helped.

"I come to him and ask, ‘What do I do?' Every time I want to have his opinion and learn from him a lot. I know he is working a lot and I want to be one day like him."

The notion of a 7'3" version of Duncan with a 7'8" wingspan and a standing reach of 9'7" boggles the mind and makes eyes bulge.

He understands the reaction.

"No, really," he said. "I watch him and how he works as a basketball player and I think I want to try to be the same as him. Nobody can be him, but I want to be a bad copy. Or I hope good copy. Let's say I try to be good copy. This is really hard but I try to work, step by step."

Marjanovic already has matched Duncan in one important aspect of the Spurs Way. He is very often the last player to leave the practice court, always working on improving himself. He has even worked with assistant coach Becky Hammonone of the best point guards in WNBA historyto improve his ball-handling.

"I give thanks every day because I have a lot of good people around me."

Marjanovic envelops a reporter's hand within his and gives one firm shake, careful to do no damage. Somehow, the hand remained intact.  

Mike Monroe has covered the San Antonio Spurs for 12 years and the NBA at large for 35 years. He has served as president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and is one of two recipients of its Phil Jasner Lifetime Achievement Award.


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