Oohs. Ahhs. “M-V-P” chants. Wild applause. Dumbfounded stares.
The latter may have been a common reaction two months ago, but most San Antonio Spurs fans are over it.
The latest vertically amplified player to bless the 210 area code is Serbian center Boban Marjanovic, dubbed “The Chimney of Kostolac” by retired Spur and current Fox Sports Southeast color commentator Sean Elliott.
The 7’3″, 290-pound Marjanovic was part of the Spurs’ offseason upgrades; he signed a one-year deal and relocated with his wife and son from his native Serbia to the Lone Star State.
Marjanovic’s transition to the NBA was a bit rocky at first–I admit to privately dubbing him “Butterfingers” during his first few games–but he has developed into a player with good court vision, an improving passer, and a knack for defending in the low post.
His dunks are sights to behold–although with his height, he doesn’t actually dunk; it’s more like he rises on his toes and puts the ball directly into the net, which you can see at around the 1:05 mark in this video.
It is moves like this that cause the uninitiated to fixate on the very largeness of Marjanovic, who towers over veteran power forward and team captain Tim Duncan, who is listed at 6’11”.
There are exclamations of surprise over the size of his immense hands (which rival those of fellow teammate and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi “The Klaw” Leonard):
When Boban shakes your hand it stays shook. pic.twitter.com/VRPlBOAYSH
— Complex Sports (@Complex_Sports) December 29, 2015
Along with the fact that some of the assistant coaches use an oar (yes, that thing used to row a boat) to put him through defensive drill exercises.
Even opposing players are sometimes in awe of his sheer presence. Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News overheard Washington Wizards forward DeJuan Blair say,“That is a big mother *******”, upon beholding all that Boban-ness during their loss to the Spurs on Dec. 16 at the AT&T Center.
While fans relish in his appearances and clamor for him to play (calls to #ReleaseTheBoban are common on social media during Spurs games), head coach Gregg Popovich is not pleased at the quality of attention that No. 40 is receiving.
“I think the crowd, they really get a kick out of him and all that, but he’s a basketball player. He’s not some sort of an odd thing,” Popovich told McDonald.
“I think the crowd, they really get a kick out of him and all that, but he’s a basketball player. He’s not some sort of an odd thing.” — Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich
The Chimney of Kostolac takes it all in stride. He loves the Spurs fans though, per McDonald, he has taken to grocery shopping at odd hours to avoid the stares. Still, he is grateful for the acceptance and outpouring of affection from fans, as told to Mike Mazzeo of ESPN: “They give me support and some energy. It’s good. I don’t drink Red Bull, but they give me wings.”
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Marjanovic has proven that the Spurs, in their infinite wisdom, were right to sign him. He was selected as the 2014–15 MVP of the ABA (Adriatic) League playoffs after helping the ABA ideal team win the 2015 ABA championship, and was subsequently named to the All-Euroleague First Team.
Two months later, he led the Serbian team Crvena zvezda to the Serbian League championship and received his third Serbian Super League MVP title. Throughout those milestones, Marjanovic set records in rebounding, season double-doubles, and PIR (Performance Index Rating, which is the Euroleague counterpart to the Player Efficiency Rating used in the NBA).
Three days after the Spurs lost on Christmas Day to the Houston Rockets, and after a brief stint with the Austin Spurs (the Spurs’ D-League affiliate), Marjanovic filled in for an injured Duncan and made seven shots to rack up 17 points in 14 minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Two days after that, he set a franchise record by recording 12 rebounds in less than 15 minutes against the Phoenix Suns. According to Hollinger’s Stats on ESPN, he currently has an almost identical PER (31.68) with the reigning league MVP, Stephen Curry (31.67) of the Golden State Warriors.
The Bobinator has skills, not that anything less is expected of anyone suiting up for the Silver and Black.
As Marjanovic grows more comfortable with the NBA style and speed of play, his minutes will increase and “Boban Mania” will continue to flourish in the Alamo City. The Bobinator may be large, but he is on the path to being in charge.
He is a decorated European player who may have received some of the highest praise from Pop thus far, according to McDonald: “He’s a hard worker and he’s a really intelligent kid and he wants it badly.”
Next time you cheer for Marjanovic, do it for his playing skill, not anything else. He’s earned it.
Originally published at hoopshabit.com on January 14, 2016.