Boban Marjanovic and I are late for our tour of celebrity homes in Los Angeles. The largest player in the NBA has just shown up on Hollywood Boulevard, wearing aviators, a black Nike T-shirt and red pants rolled up to his knees—or, my waist. I shake his hand and almost forget that mine exists. If you for some reason find it hard to instantly grasp how large a 7-foot-3 human standing in front of you is, a simple handshake will suffice.
Everyone is in their seats by the time our fast walk brings us to a five-row van that’s been sliced in half and outfitted with a windowless metal roof for a prime viewing experience. We’re joined by a “tourists on a weekday” crowd. Boban, the L.A. Clippers’ backup center, at one point tries to get the attention of a couple from Hungary. “Hey I’m from Serbia! We’re neighbors. Oh wait, I don’t know their language.” They can tell Boban is someone, but they don’t know who.
We slide into the back seat like sardines, and Boban’s knees bend up to my chin. The driver begins talking right away—and never stops, really, as we drive through the winding Hollywood Hills. “I’m afraid of how he drives,” Boban says. We stop first at the house where Richard Gere and Julia Roberts filmed the final scene in Pretty Woman. “Did they really kiss here?” Boban asks. We drive past one of the houses in The Terminator. “They call me ‘Bobinator,’ you know?” he says, before feeling the need to explain. “You know like ‘dominate’? And then my nickname, Bobi? You combine them, half and half, and get Bobinator. I love it, it’s so good.”
About halfway through the tour, our driver stops at a location that looks out onto downtown Los Angeles. “That’s where Staples Center is,” the driver says. “It’s where the Los Angeles Lakers play.” Boban’s eyes widen in disbelief. He sticks his head up, nearly hitting the van’s roof, and calls out. “Who? Who else? Lakers and who?”
The tour guide does a double-take in the rearview mirror. He chuckles with embarrassment. “Lakers and the Clippers!”
“Thank you!” Boban yells out sarcastically.
“That’s good, he was testing me,” the tour guide says to the passengers.
“But how can I believe that that house is [whose] he says it is?” It’s as offended as Boban can get, which is to say not at all. A smirk quickly follows. “How do we get out of here … immediately?”
“You know when you watch on YouTube, and you put some song, and then it shows up something really new, and then it takes you to another one you didn’t expect?” Boban asks as the tour hits its stride parallel to the 101. I nod, familiar with YouTube’s time-sucking algorithm. “And you’re like, ‘Wow, I haven’t heard that song in a long time.’ And you go into that song, and then it suggests some other song, and it’s like ‘Wooooow, this starts a big party.’”
When you look up—at almost a 90-degree angle—at Boban’s shaggy, jet-black hair and smirking face, you don’t know what to expect. Marjanovic is listed at 7-foot-3 and 290 pounds, with a 7-foot-8 wingspan. In a game last season, he made Pelicans center Anthony Davis look like Muggsy Bogues:
But anyone who knows the 30-year-old will tell you he’s just a big kid. He has the warmth of an old friend, even if you’ve just met him. “Sometimes I’m like, he’s too big to be so nice,” teammate Sindarius Thornwell says. “He’s the nicest person you’ll ever meet.”
The Clippers found that out in February, when Boban arrived from Detroit via the Blake Griffin trade along with Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley. When he first got to Los Angeles, Clippers players said they had only heard about the legend of Boban—the jovial personality and the viral dancing videos. But they soon found that’s the real Boban too.
“He didn’t come in a shell, he opened up right away,” Thornwell said. “He fit right in.”
Boban was an instant hit in the Clippers’ group chat. Montrezl Harrell said he was taken aback when Boban would pop in the chat with a joke in Serbian. “It would stop the conversation because no one knew what to say,” Harrell said.
After a 117-106 win against the East-leading Raptors in late March, a sudden blast of music roused a sleepy Clippers team flight. It was Boban, blaring music from a portable speaker. Marjanovic doesn’t remember what the song was, but there’s a good chance it was his beloved Serbian music. His tastes have become more eclectic the past few years. He’s even warming up to country music. When we pass Katy Perry’s house, Boban reacts with a literal roar. And when we stop at Pitbull’s house, he hums and sings a rendition of Pitbull’s “I Know You Want Me.”
Dancing, however, is Boban’s forte. Before he and Harris were traded from the Pistons, a video of Harris teaching Boban how to Milly Rock took off.
A number of other dancing videos followed, including one they called the Chicken Noodle Soup dance.
When I asked Boban about what dance could be next, he said, “You must ask teacher about the dance. I’m the student here.”
Harris and Boban gravitated toward each other in Detroit during the 2016-17 season, which was each’s first full season there. The dancing brought them closer together, and the move to L.A. brought them even closer. They now have a digital video series, Bobi and Tobi, that chronicles their escapades.
The only thing that can divide them is food. Harris is a health nut, and Boban, well, Boban just likes to eat. “The places he picks don’t have fast food, and when I suggest something he has to see if they have fish, that’s the only way he’ll go,” Boban says.
Harris, meanwhile, is on a quest to get Boban to diversify his palate and eat dinner earlier. “When he’s eating I’m sleeping,” Harris said. “He also doesn’t like healthy options.” But Harris had success with Mexican food. Harris got Boban to try it for the first time earlier this year at a sit-down spot in West Hollywood. The fajitas won him over, and the next day he wanted to go again. Now, Boban has his own Mexican spot in the South Bay that he goes to about once a week. “He’s so easy to get along with,” Harris says.
Clippers fans are as smitten as their small forward. Though Boban averaged only 8.3 minutes in 20 games with L.A., every touch of the ball in front of the home crowd sent the volume in the Staples Center up a few decibels. There were more than a few “MVP” chants too. His six points per game would’ve tied for 213th-best in the NBA (had he played enough minutes to qualify for the leaderboard), but the Clippers fan base embraces him like he’s their superstar. Fans around the NBA do too.
“Everywhere you go, everybody’s screaming his name. Every airport, every city, every team we play against, everybody in the arena loves him,” Thornwell says. “Everybody wants something of Bobi, they want a piece of him, to talk to him, a handshake, a picture, just anything to feel associated with him.”
Unanimous approval is impossible in all walks of life, let alone a job that causes you to careen into your peers. But Boban gets as close to universal popularity as one can get.
Boban, for his part, can’t explain this. “I ride my bicycle and I didn’t expect nobody to pay attention to me,” he says, “but they are like, ‘Hey Boban, Boban!’”
“The thing about Boban,” Harrell says, “is that you can never tell he’s having a bad day.”
We end our tour early, but not before the tour guide asks me if I could take a picture of him and Boban. Boban agrees and then calls an uberXL. “We need a big car,” he says. When the Honda Pilot arrives, his hair brushes up against the moon roof.
“You see that car right there,” he begins, pointing at a Mercedes-Benz that passes by. He’s imitating our know-it-all tour guide now. “That car was driven by Denzel Washington.”
It’s easy for Boban to turn everything into a joke. But his career thus far has honestly been a triumph of perseverance. After bouncing around overseas for nearly a decade, playing in Serbia and Russia and Lithuania, he was brought to the NBA by the Spurs on a one-year, $1.2 million deal. In the summer of 2016, as teams were going smaller and smaller in the frontcourt, he earned a three-year, $21 million offer sheet from the Pistons that the Spurs declined to match. And though it remains to be seen what the market will be for a giant rebounding specialist when his contract runs out next summer, he may have already found a new career to fall back on.
Boban spent part of his summer on the set for John Wick 3: Parabellum, playing the part of “Assassin.” When I ask how it went, he replies, “What movie?” in a stone-cold tone. “Not remember.”
He is still playing his part, and playing it well. But he can’t keep hold the stern expression for long. “It was fun, really fun to be yourself in that type of stuff. I know it’s acting, but to me, it’s like playing basketball,” he says. He says he spent weeks working on his stunts and his acting. But the best part was meeting Keanu Reeves. “My favorite actor,” he says. “I got to shake his hand.”
I ask him if he ever even expected to be here, in L.A., playing basketball in the NBA, starring in a movie, when he was growing up in Serbia.
“Never, never,” he says, then pauses for half a second. “Or, I can say, ‘Yeah I dreamed about that and the dream came true.’” He laughs. “You can take both answers.”