Enter the New Orleans Pelicans’ locker room on any given day, in any given year, and there’s one phrase you’re guaranteed to hear.
No, the players are not referring to a pivotal moment in a game or laying out a vision of what’s to come.
They’re trying to get the attention of longtime equipment manager David Jovanovic, whose had the “Big Shot” monicker bestowed on him since 1989. It was an unintentional gift granted to him by former Charlotte Hornets guard Rex Chapman, who pointed out Jovanovic’s resemblance to a now-defunct Philadelphia 76ers mascot before burying a game-winning jumper.
It has been the moniker of choice for the Pelicans’ longest serving employee ever since.
In fact, many players admit to not even knowing Jovanovic’s actual name. To many, he’s just Big Shot.
“It’s not because I’ve ever hit a shot or even played basketball. Rex just thought I looked like the mascot from the 76ers and that was its name,” Jovanovic said. “That’s stuck with me for a long time and I’ve had fun with it. I mean, we really had guys who thought my first name was ‘Big’ and my last name was ‘Shot’.
“It’s how I introduce myself to our players now. They try to call me ‘sir’ sometimes and I say, just call me ‘Big Shot’ and that usually makes them more relaxed, which is great.”
It’s illustrative of Jovanovic’s unending loyalty and ability to roll with circumstances. And, in his 29-year tenure as equipment manager, there have been plenty of unforeseen circumstances.
He is the lone thread connecting the current version of the New Orleans Pelicans to its initial birth as the expansion Charlotte Hornets in 1988. He officially outlasts the franchise history (which begins upon the team’s move to New Orleans in 2002) and has stayed with them through three cities, three ownership groups and countless coaching and player changes.
When Hurricane Katrina devastated the New Orleans area, destroying his Slidell home in the process, he was in Oklahoma City weeks later preparing for a vagabond training camp.
Throughout one of the league’s most turbulent franchise tenures, Jovanovic has never changed jobs.
He is the only constant. Nearly everything — except his wife Maryellen and daughters Grace and Abigail — has changed around him.
“I thought I would be in this job one or maybe three years,” Jovanovic said. “Then, I woke up one day and realized it had been a long time. Then, I just heard the team was going to move and I wasn’t sure I was going to go, but our general manager said he wanted me to get on the plane and look at houses.
“And it suddenly kind of hit me that this is what I do. And this is my life.”
He’s embraced it fully.
Jovanovic is usually found working with players to get them the gear they desire, from arm sleeves to tights to socks to shorts to jerseys. Whether it’s Anthony Davis or an unknown draft prospect hoping to get taken in the second round, Jovanovic is always there to provide whatever he can get his hands on to make players comfortable.
Spend an hour in his office during a practice day and see a cavalry of players knocking down his door with a variety of requests.
“He’s just someone you can tell the guys feel comfortable with,” said Kory Johnson, the Pelicans’ travel coordinator and longtime assistant equipment manager. “He’s got a lot of knowledge and he’s passionate about the job and it spreads to everyone. He’s so easy to get along with and these guys feel comfortable asking him for anything they need.”
It stretches generationally as well.
He remembers watching a young Stephen Curry, whose dad, Dell, played in Charlotte, take jumpers in a dark gym after practice. And when the Warriors face the Pelicans, Curry and Jovanovic routinely chat at center court, while a throng of fans wait to watch Curry start on his legendary pregame shooting routine.
“He used to babysit my kids,” Jovanovic said. “It’s so crazy to see what’s happened.”
It’s a relationship that demonstrates what makes “Big Shot” such a unique presence. Despite admittedly desiring to blend into the background, Jovanavich has instead become an indelible part of the franchise’s fabric, tying together generations of players and being a familiar face to many old-time Hornets and Pelicans staffers who come through town.
Just like his nickname indicates, he’s always just been along for the ride.
“I’m just very fortunate to be a part of this,” Jovanovic said. “There’s been some really crazy stuff that has happened to this franchise, not only a move but Katrina and another move and ownership changes and everything. It’s just been really bizarre at times. But, this is what I know. I know these are my guys and I’m here to take care of them as best as I can.
“I want to provide them to make them feel comfortable and do everything I can that’s best for this team. It’s my job and it’s what I’m here to do.”