Good Morning, Mr. Marjanovic: How NBA Stars Are Schooling Their Kids, Not Rivals

Leo Sepkowitz@@LeoSepkowitzContributorMay 7, 2020

Photo courtesy of Boban Marjanovic

In the Marjanovic household, some 20 miles outside of Dallas, the coronavirus is feared but misunderstood. The youngest in the house, Petar, 4, may have memorized the protocol: Go outside sparingly, wash hands when returning inside, skip school, study with mom, Milica, and dad, Boban. But as to why, or what it all means? Petar lives by his own notions.

"He thinks it's some animal out there, we cannot touch it, it's something dirty and you must wash your hands every single time," Boban says. "He thinks, 'Oh, it's a corona—an animal that everybody's scared of, so everybody's in the house.'"

That's close enough for Boban—the Mavericks' beloved, oversized center—and Milica, who anyway are more focused on teaching the basics: English, math, science. Since schools were shut down in mid-March, the Marjanovics have been home-schooling Petar and his older brother, Vuk, 8. Each day, they create a new curriculum for their kids. For Petar, a kindergartener, the coursework is easy and free-flowing: painting, drawing, playing with constructive toys. Vuk's schedule is more complex.

In the mornings, he checks in with his school teachers on his iPad, and some classes are run through apps. To Boban, who was born in the small town of Boljevac, Serbia, the toughest of them is English. His spelling and grammar are works in progress, and so there is a give and take in the Marjanovic home: Boban helps Vuk with his math homework; Vuk helps Boban with his emails. Not your standard school day, perhaps, but the Marjanovic family is making do, bonding with and relying on each other in new ways.

Right now, many families across the country—and the NBA—are doing the same, hunkering down and studying together. Already, athletes' appreciation for teachers has reached an all-time high. After all, home-schooling parents are winging it to some degree, Googling lesson plans and tapping into hazy memories of long division. The greatest challenge of all is keeping the attention of their children, who have hardly left the house in weeks and want to know if they can see their friends, and if they can go outside, and if they can touch that, and if they can use their older brother's skateboard. Indeed, each day at home is a grind, and yet many players have relished the experience. This is, after all, a special—albeit strange, monotonous—chance to spend the kind of time with family that a typical NBA season never allows.

"It's been a doozy for us, but me being home, I get a chance to see how the house functions," Bulls forward Thaddeus Young says. This is his first time spending the spring with his two kids, Thaddeus Jr., 9, and Taylor, 6; Young has been in the NBA their entire lives. And while he may have one of the world's coolest jobs, there's no doubt his schedule is grueling. For dads like Thaddeus, the worst part of a career in basketball is leaving their kids to travel. "When I walk out the door, they're like, 'Oh, man, you got another road trip?!' They get pissed off."

Thaddeus Young, here with his son Taylor, is among the many NBA players who have gained an appreciation for the challenges of teaching after being thrust into the role of stay-at-home teachers for their own children.
Thaddeus Young, here with his son Taylor, is among the many NBA players who have gained an appreciation for the challenges of teaching after being thrust into the role of stay-at-home teachers for their own children.Photo courtesy of Thaddeus Young

Now, far from ever having to leave for a West Coast swing or back-to-back set, Young says he has not left his home in several weeks—not even, he says, "to touch the sidewalk."

Indoors, school with Thad and his wife, Shekinah, begins in the early afternoon. They do their best to make it interactive and even fun. Shekinah focuses on science projects. Early in their stay-at-home time, she ordered a volcano from Amazon, which the family constructed together, and then another, bigger one, and most recently a do-it-yourself motorized robot.

Thad's specialty is math—a tougher sell to elementary school kids with ungodly amounts of pent-up energy. Recently, Taylor, like many first-graders before him, was in no mood for multiplication tables. He kept saying the problems were too difficult, and Thad struggled to engage him. That's when a thought occurred to him: To offer his son money—$20—to answer four questions correctly.

"I'll be damned," Thad says. Taylor started popping out answers right away, and his father was taken to school, too. "He hustled me!" Thad says. "I learned my 6-year-old is a little hustler."

Class with TJ, meanwhile, tests Thad's own grade-school memories. "His multiplication tables were a little harder," Young says. "I had to really sit down and go through each and every problem and break it down: Carry the 1 over, the 2 over, put a 0 down right here. I had to become an actual teacher. After I finished that, I said, 'Damn, teachers should be paid a million bucks. They should be valued way more than they are.'"

That's been a common refrain from players suddenly thrust into teaching duties. "They're superheroes!" says Jamal Crawford—via text, because he and his wife, Tori, are busy teaching their kids, aged 9, 7 and 3.

Nic Batum, the Hornets forward, has one 4-year-old to contend with. "Now I got more respect for teachers," he says. Over the past several weeks, he and his wife, Aurelie, have been home-schooling Ayden, a kindergartener. "I can't imagine if you have 10 or 15 in a class," he adds. "Especially young kids like that."

Nicolas Batum @nicolas88batum

Well my student left me but we learn one thing.... Tomorrow: shapes (leading to the triangle and some film, Bulls 96 and Lakers 2001) WEDNESDAY: alphabet and Euroleague Basketball (Maccabi 2004) https://t.co/110Taaf7HH

For Ayden, most of home school revolves around language—learning both French and English. "He's better in English than I thought," says Nic, who was born in northern France and typically speaks French around the house. Each day, they use books and videos to review basic grammar principles, and, under his parents' tutelage, Ayden is catching on quick. "One time he corrected me," Nic says. "I said, 'Quiet,' and he said: 'No! It's be quiet!' I said, 'Oh, excuse me!'"

In the evenings, the Batums settle down to enjoy their newfound surplus of family time. "It's terrible what's happening, but if you have to take a positive, you can stay home and reconnect with your family," Nic says. "To be home with my wife and son makes me understand what's the biggest thing in life—it's family."

As Boban says, "End of the story, it's fine because you spend so much time with the kids now and your family." He smiles and adds, "I guess too much time."

Each day, Marjanovic finds brief serenity in his home gym, which Milica initially set up awhile back. The dumbbells there are neon pink and green. Boban once laughed at the brightly colored weights; now he depends on them. There is a yoga mat down there, too, and after a few weeks of being at home, Boban decided to unroll it and stretch his 7'4" self into beginner poses like upward- and downward-facing dog. "I start to be the biggest fan of yoga right now," he says, though he suspects his positioning is all wrong.

Later, the family passes the time with video games. Boban's favorites are PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and Counter-Strike. Vuk's favorite is Grand Theft Auto V, which presents a little ethical dilemma for Boban. Like many, he finds the game morally dubious. But, like any great educator, he has found a teachable moment within the game's crime-filled hellscape. "We don't kill people," he says, laughing. "And we stop on every traffic light."

Andre Drummond of the Cleveland Cavaliers joins David Gardner on the How to Survive Without Sports podcast to talk about the many changes in his life over the last few months, from his trade to the Cavaliers, a coaching change to the suspension of the season and more. Additional episodes are available on Spotify and Apple podcasts.


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