Players watch film on the team plane quite often. Whether it’s on their own or with a member of the coaching staff, players spend time looking over tape from their previous game or of their upcoming opponent.
Earlier this season, Maxi Kleber was on the plane studying tape from the previous game when all of a sudden, he felt someone’s hand on the top of his head. Palming Kleber’s head like a cantaloupe, their fingers wrapped down past Kleber’s jaw.
Only one man on the plane had a hand that big.
When the Dallas Mavericks signed Boban Marjanovic on July 23, you knew Dallas was getting the tallest player in the NBA. You knew they were getting half of the Bobi & Tobi show, and you knew they were getting an actor in the latest John Wick movie. But most of all, you knew they were getting one of the most likable athletes in all of professional sports. And for a young Mavs team, his presence in the locker room has been exactly what they needed.
“Every time he comes in here, he is in charge of giving us a good vibe,” Kleber said when asked about Marjanovic’s impact on the team. “He’s making jokes and loosening everybody up. He is never mad and accepts his role. He always stays ready. Having a teammate like him is big time for a team like us.”
For a Mavericks team that has just three players over 30 years old on the roster, Marjanovic not only brings experience, but an infectious personality that brightens every room he enters.
“It’s always good to have someone that always keeps you laughing and joking in the good and the bad times,” Justin Jackson said with a smile. “The team is made up of so many personalities. The more positive energy, good vibe, giving out type of people you have on the team always helps a lot.”
Courtney Lee, who is one of the other two Mavericks outside of Marjanovic over 30, had heard about how great Marjanovic was as a teammate. But now that he is on the same side, it has been better than what he thought.
“Bobi is a bubbly dude. A happy giant. That’s my guy,” Lee said. “He comes and practices hard every day. He keeps a smile on his face no matter the situation. That is my type of guy.”
Lee expanded on Marjanovic’s impact on the team by adding, “You always need guys that are experienced veterans through every aspect of the game and still show professionalism to come in there and work. The younger dudes see that and it rubs off on them. Just having Bobi around the locker room, planes and everywhere, with his personality, it keeps everybody loose.”
Back before the season started, I chatted with Jalen Brunson on media day about the makeup of the team and their team chemistry heading into the season. That day, Brunson said: “If we are winning, it will be because of how close we are.” When reminding Brunson about that quote and how Boban plays into that, he couldn’t praise his veteran enough.
“Our team chemistry is off the charts,” Brunson said. “We have a lot of fun. When you have team camaraderie like that, it’s fun being out there. Bobi is a great guy. There is a smile on his face every day. You never know if something is wrong. He’s a good teammate to be around and is excited about other people’s success.”
Admittedly, NBA players don’t always enjoy talking to the media, and rightfully so. But when I made my rounds through the Mavericks roster, there was a common denominator in every interaction: a smile on their face as soon as Boban was brought up. They wanted to talk about Boban. Boban IS joy and laughter. It’s hard to even be in the same room as him without smiling yourself. Players don’t just love playing with him, they love being around him.
From palming teammate’s heads on the team plane to hitting up ramen noodle shops, you could publish a memoir of personal, memorable Boban stories.
“Just Boban period is a funny story,” Lee said.
Kleber reminisced back to preseason when he was watching Marjanovic up close for the first time. “Every time he got the ball it looked like he was playing against kids which was pretty funny,” Kleber added.
For Brunson, it was a moment in practice that he will never forget.
“Probably the craziest story I have. It was in practice before the season. He dunked the ball…and then jumped. It was the craziest (stuff) I have ever seen. It might have been on Maxi. Actually, it probably was,” Brunson said. (Kleber emphatically denied this, of course.)
The list could go on forever on great Boban stories, but fun, laughter and entertainment aren’t the only things that describe him. Honestly, when I went into writing this story a few weeks ago my focus was solely on the fun nature of having Boban Marjanovic as a teammate. How great that is for team chemistry. But after talking with people throughout the organization and a lot of his teammates, it was the work that Marjanovic puts in off the court that impresses people the most.
Every single player I talked to about Marjanovic pointed towards his work ethic unprompted. When it comes to practice, if you’re not ready to go all out, Boban isn’t the guy you want on the other team. “He is a crazy worker, sometimes he does too much,” Kleber said. “Sometimes you just want to get some shots up and he is running up and down doing whatever he wants to do. He is a lot of fun.”
“He loves to be in the gym and loves to practice,” Rick Carlisle added. “He set the record for the number of pickup games played with our interns this year. It helps keep him tuned up and ready to play.”
Marjanovic’s role this season has been up and down to say the least. He has played in 20 of the Mavericks’ 39 games and only logged double-digit minutes in 10 of those. Consistent role or not, the work that the 7-foot-4, 290-pound Marjanovic puts in off the court to stay ready sends shockwaves throughout the roster.
It was Dec. 7 at home against the Pelicans. Marjanovic hadn’t logged over 10 minutes in a game since a week before Thanksgiving and had received back-to-back DNP-CDs the two games prior. He played over 22 minutes that night and had 15 points and 16 rebounds in the win.
Fast forward to the Lakers game on Friday night where Boban played just 10 minutes after not playing the prior two games. In those 10 minutes of playing time, Marjanovic became the second player in NBA history to record a double-double (14 points and 10 rebounds) in 10 minutes or less, according to Mavs PR. The very next night, against Philadelphia, Marjanovic once again logged quality minutes by recording 12 points in just eight minutes of play.
With the game headed toward a victory and Marjanovic still on the court, Seth Curry hit him on the wing for an open 3-pointer. You could hear the audible gasp from the crowd as the ball soared through the air. Buckets.
A Boban 3-pointer didn’t just bring everyone in the crowd to their feet but the bench erupted with joy. Joy that had nothing to do with points on the scoreboard, but everything to do with supporting a teammate that has supported them all year. For someone who has been the biggest cheerleader for everyone else’s success, it was the team’s time to be supportive back to the success Boban was having on the court.
And everyone was excited about Boban’s big impact in the win. As the media scrum crowded around his locker post game, different members of the organization made their way past acknowledging Boban’s night. Everyone was showing their support. You could even hear Luka Doncic make his way through the training area of the locker room shouting, “Boban! Media!”
Marjanovic laced up his boots and admitted that he was nervous before talking to the media. He answered questions in the most Boban way possible. Full of joy and laughs. He credited the training staff for keeping him ready and he even joked about participating in the dunk contest and how he is one of two people in the league who can dunk without jumping. That he could get some “10s” with that dunk.
“He is a great guy,” Luka Doncic said after the game. “He is a hard worker. He works hard a lot. He deserves those kinds of moments. He helped us a lot today.”
When asked about why the bench reacted the way it did for Boban as he sank his 3-pointer in the fourth, Doncic responded with a smile, “It’s just Boban… It’s Boban.”
And everyone knew what Doncic meant by that. There is one Boban Marjanovic and the Mavericks are more than happy that he is now on their side.