Boban Marjanovic looks like someone out of a superhero comic book.
Not the protagonist, mind you, far from it. He'd be some bad guy's henchman, one of the lackeys tasked with doing something profoundly violent and unpleasant so that his mad genius boss doesn't have to get his hands dirty.
He is, by far, the largest human being I've ever seen, and I had to fight the urge to let my jaw drop standing alongside him during his first group interview. Looking up at Tim Duncan or LaMarcus Aldridge is one thing, but you have to crane your neck up another 20 degrees or so to get to Marjonvic's eye level, and that's with him self-consciously slouching. It takes quite a lot to impress NBA players, but even the Spurs star big-men have admitted to feeling a bit less imposing than usual after meeting Marjanovic, while a mere 6'6 wing like Danny Green described him as "a gentle giant."
The Spurs new center is the scariest looking dude I've ever stood near, someone who could envelop my whole head in one of his massive hands and probably crush it like a grape if he so desired. Marjanovic's limited lateral quickness on defense has been brought up so much since he's signed, with the concern being that opposing bigs will scoot right around the hulking Serbian or simply leap over him in an effort to dunk on his head. However, after seeing him up close, I cannot imagine anyone having the chutzpah to provoke him in such a manner. If Marjanovic can reach you --and considering that his wingspan is roughly the size of the gym, he probably can-- it's over.
What quickly became apparent is that Marjanovic was far more scared of us, the media scrum, than we were of him. He is shy, a bit awkward, and new to the country. Seeing a bunch of strangers with cameras pointing and microphones thrust in his direction made him far more nervous and intimidated than perhaps a casual sit-down with a single interviewer might have.
He apologized, unnecessarily, beforehand and afterward for his limited English.
I started to feel a bit sorry for him, imagining what his life must be like. Everywhere Marjanovic goes, people gawk and gape and stare, not because he's some celebrity, but just because he's so unique. A supermodel can always tuck her hair in under a ballcap, wear some sunglasses and hide underneath a pile of baggy clothes when she doesn't wish to be scrutinized or bothered in public. There is nothing Marjanovic can do to make himself not stand out in a crowd, especially when he's literally standing.
All NBA players are physical marvels in one way or another, but the ones who get ogled at usually do so because of a talent they've consciously chosen to develop and cultivate for fortune and fame. When you're 7'4 like Marjanovic, You had better be able to play basketball a little because life will be an endless series of inconveniences for you regardless.
Marjanovic revealed that he started playing basketball casually at 11 and got serious about the game at 14, when he was recruited to one of the country's best sports academies and spoke a bit about watching the NBA was like where he grew up.
"When I was younger everybody knew who is Michael Jordan, he was like the first, and after that we had Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic, we watch them, how they play, and all the children had jerseys of Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, Divac or Stojakovic," Marjanovic said.
"No Tim Duncan jerseys?" somebody quipped, and Marjanovic, quicker than his reputation suggested, replied "I'll get one this year."
He was a bit bummed about missing out on a chance to play for Serbia at Eurobasket 2015 because of a bum foot, but expressed relief that he's gotten a clean bill of health with his first training camp with the Spurs underway.
"Now it's much better," he said. "I have permission to play and be with the team and I'm really happy for that."
Marjanovic still hopes to compete in the 2016 Olympics, but for now he'll have to learn a new system from new coaches, playing with new teammates in a new league, in a sport with new rules, while living in a new city with a new language, new customs and new culture. All of this unfamiliarity would spook anyone and make them withdraw into themselves as it is, but the bonus for Marjanovic is that he's quite possibly the tallest person in the seventh-most populous city in the country and he has a rather public job.
Marjanovic did his best to put on a brave face about what he's in store for. He's used to people staring by now and basketball is basketball, right? You can't teach height and he's got that in spades and a fair amount of skill to go with it.
"This is my [childhood] dream," he said. "I dream about it and now I'm on the best team in all the world, and [I want] to help [however] much I can."
Making sure no one would describe you as "gentle" on the court would be my advice.