He joined the Euroleague Club 40+ , he is still gathering a collection of the most brilliant moments in his career, he carries the genes of Krajina, he enjoys the love and respect of Madrid, he lives according to the strict rules of a top sportsman. And he dreams of returning basketball to Bosnia and Bosnia to basketball
Interview by: Senka KURT
This beginning of the New Year was completely spectacular for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
For Bosnians and Herzegovinians, a reason for pride, hope, and celebrations.
And for us, and there, God willing, a little more than 2.5 millions of us, five extraordinary people brought happiness and pride.
First, on January 6, with 40 points in the victory of Real Madrid against Anadolu Efes, Džanan Musa played the game of his career. And entered the “40+ Club” in the Euroleague. And so entered into elite company when it comes to Euroleague history books.
This should also be known – before Musa, only six basketball players in the world did it – the late American Alfonso Ford, the legendary Italian Carlton Myers. Both in 2001. A year later, Latvian Kaspars Kampaka recorded the same. Bobby Brown joined this club in 2013, and Tyrese Rice six years later. And then finally in 2019, Shane Larkin broke absolutely all records. The current Anadolu Efes basketball player shone and led his team to victory against Bayern Munich with 49 points.
That same week, Edin Džeko also shone. Again and again. He scored his 17th goal in the season for his Fenerbahce.
The news then arrived from London. Bosnian-Herzegovinian sound designer, Sarajevan Samir Fočo won the prestigious “Emmy” award in the category for “Outstanding Sound Editing for a Documentary or Reality Program”. Fočo won the award for sound editing in the film “Moonage Dream” by Brett Morgen.
And it was Fočo himself who worked on an outstanding documentary on David Bowie.
Then Oscar winner Danis Tanović posted a photo. A photo of him with winner Fočo and Pulitzer winner Damir Šagolj. One photo with three recipients of prestigious awards.
And I tell that to Musa a day or two later in Madrid. And he agrees… Yeah, that’s huge. Five of them, God willing, 2.5 millions of us, and they spread out in all directions. We have world awards, we score baskets and goals like a piece of cake, it all seems to go so easily.
Left home at 11 years of age
And Musa is exactly what I imagine top athletes to be .
Well brought up, well-mannered, too kind, humorous. Everything is as how I imagine great athletes. And people from Krajina, especially.
For, Musa likes to say for himself that he is Krajina man. And regardless of his origin from royal Vareš on his paternal side, his birth certificate and biography read – place of birth Bihać. And that means a lot.
Short data will also say this – he was born on May 8, 1999. He is 206 cm tall and weighs 102 kilograms. He is a wing player. Today he plays for Real Madrid in ACB and Euroleague.
But we will go back to the beginning. He first started training football in his native Bihać. And then basketball, already at the age of eight. At 11, he moved to Sarajevo. All alone.
– I had that student food card. At that time, I mostly hung out with Edo Atić. We kept that camaraderie. I will be his best man at his wedding this summer. And… we come to the restaurant there. Tall, grown up. And everyone asks us what we study. And we’re 13. And it’s funny to us – he tells me.
And how he went to Zagreb at the age of 14. To Cedevita. So he became the youngest player in the ABA League in the 2015/2016 season. In the same season, he had his first appearance in the Euroleague. And all like that for few more years.
That year, he won a gold medal at the European Championship with the cadet national team of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was also named the most valuable player. I still remember that spectacular welcoming party in front of the Eternal Fire in Sarajevo. And I shudder. From the rush of emotions.
Until April 2018, (as I was taught by my male part of the family, passionate basketball fans) when he was drafted by the Brooklyn Nets. For people like me, here is some clarification. NBA. Top tier. The best one basketball player could ever wish for at such young age. Two years later, he was traded to Detroit Pistons. And somehow, it was prime time for return.
Not return to home exactly, but Europe is sort of home to all of us. So, in January 2021. he came to Anadolu Efes. A short episode, it lasted a few months. It remains in memory because of great teammates, wonderful moments, joy. Personal growth. Sometimes disappointments. Because it’s all life.
And life is a surprise. As is Rio Breogan from Spain. Where Spanish fairy tale started. Where Musa became a hero, a legend. After 30 years, he brought Rio Breogan to the stars. And there he showed what he knows. And how much he can.
And he shared with Spanish newspaper As, as he put it, one pretty crazy story on his arrival to Breogan.
He was persuaded by his manager Miško Ražnjatović.
– He told me to trust him, that if I play well, everything will be perfect. It just so happened to be one of the best decisions of my life. After that season, everyone talked about my big decision, but he admitted to me in front of his friends in Belgrade that he wasn’t one hundred percent sure of this decision either. He is a top agent, he came to me and said that Breogan is the way to go to get my career back on track and back where I belong – said Džanan.
Farewell with tears and laughter
To tell a secret, I saw several shots of the film the Spaniards are making about Musa. That farewell in Breogan is a wonder. Tears and laughter in the town square. They cheer for Musa even at a match when Musa plays against their club in a Real Madrid jersey.
The episode in Breogan will remain in Musa’s memory forever. A serious injury almost stopped his career. But it has not.
Luckily. He was training much earlier than anyone expected. And continued. Great. Stellar. Won awards, became MVP of the season in the ACB League. For the first time, a Rio Breogan player won such an award.
Arrival to Real
And then comes July 2022. And signing with Real Madrid.
He talked for the first time with coach Chus Mateo one month before that.
– I felt like a part of the family, which is the most important thing for me. Everything else is in the background. From the first day I feel like I belong to this family at Real – he said.
And he admitted that he had offers from numerous clubs. But Real? Well, you do not reject that!
– I wanted to continue playing in the ACB league. It is true that I had many offers on the table. We talked about all things, about money, about everything, but when Real Madrid calls you, you just go there. When they sent me the offer, I told the agent that I was going there no matter what, and he responded affirmatively and there was nothing to discuss – he said while present himself in the new jersey.
He also told me that arrival to Real was a bit hard.
– You come to a big club, you are young, you are the best in that league. They check you out a bit. Now, I am a native here. And what I like most is to help young people, to be there. I don’t really like people looking at me through basketball. I am a basketball player. I just play basketball a little better than others. But I’m not the guy from TV. I would like someone who knows me to say: What a great man!– he told me.
Although he is not yet 25 years old, he has experience, wisdom, beautiful, but also difficult periods. In life and career.
He knows a lot. And he says that his voyage is – incredible.
And somehow it seemed to him that he always knew that it was going to unfold that way.
He told the Spaniards that he always had self-confidence…
– And I always believed that things would work out the way they were supposed to. They said I’m arrogant, but I’m honest and always when I go out on the floor, I try to be the best version of myself. I’ve had tough times in my career, but I’ve always believed that if I work hard, rewards will follow. My family and friends supported me and believed in me, the thought of stopping playing basketball never crossed my mind, but it is true that I had an extremely difficult time in the USA. I met Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn. They are big stars that you have to respect. I fought many things and became stronger – he said in one of rare interviews.
And he is barely “fighting” with the popularity and love that the people of Madrid show him.
“You score too many three-points“
They recognize him at every step, ask to take pictures with him. For Madrid, Real is almost an icon.
– You score too many three-points – a smiling waiter told him in the restaurant.
And Musa admits how that love, respect and attention feel good.
– It is nice. It feels good. I represent Bosnia and Herzegovina. My heart is even bigger when our people come to matches in Europe, they wait for me after the match, they ask to take pictures. Well, there were our people in Munich, they come to the matches because of me. Lots of our flags. I didn’t even get to take a picture with everyone. But, my heart is full – he told me.
When I asked him what kind of life he leads, he said it is pretty quiet.
– There are a lot of trips, a lot of matches, a lot of people, fans. Many would like to take a picture and talk to you. And then you need some peace. You need our people. You want to joke around, talk to someone. It’s true, everything around me is somehow too serious. There is also a lot of pressure. Every match must be won. Did you score 40 points yesterday? You did! But tomorrow is a new day. You move on. It’s a new game – he said.
When he rests, he likes to watch movies. And his fiancée, Adna, a doctor of dentistry, is the same.
He says, in fact, it seems to him that his entire family has adapted and is adapting to him. And he appreciates it very much.
Because games are played every other night during this period, literally.
Living at the Residence
And top form calls for top sacrifice. And the life of an athlete as we see it in movies, and we say: Oh, surely it is not like this.
– I get up around 9, then I go to the Real Residence. We have breakfast together there. Often with football players. There is massage, then gym, then training. It’s not a strong training, because we play a lot of games. This is why daily training can be contradictory. Tactics are more developed – he said.
And Real Residence is actually a small town. Where the athletes of the top club, the biggest sports brand in the world can rest, train, and have top chef service.
Everyone except them is forbidden to enter there. There, Musa, just like the others, has an apartment. So that he can take a nap. Get some rest. Wait between massages and training. Hang out with colleagues, play a game of table tennis or some game on the computer.
– We are all like a family. Real Madrid is really a family. There is no rivalry between us and the football players. They come to our matches, we go to theirs, when we have time – he said.
And when I asked if he feels privileged – he is playing for the best in Europe, there are chefs, service, perfect conditions, he answers in the affirmative.
The best should have the best
The best have the best. As it should be. Both at home and when they travel around Europe with their own airplane.
– Yes, it is the highest possible level. And sometimes I lie down at night and think, dear God, where am I? – he said.
I ask him how his parents handle everything. Are they too proud. He laughs and says that he usually comments with his father after every match.
– After every match, even when I score 40 points, she asks me – did you eat anything – he said laughingly.
So he tells us that he usually eats everything… a lot of meat, fish, vegetables, except potatoes.
– I eat pasta on match day. I love salmon before a game and it’s on my plate before every game. And then – meat. To get back what I lost. And my only flaw is sweet. I love everything sweet – he said.
And how do you explain to your mother in Bosnia, I ask him, that you can’t eat pie.
– I don’t explain it, I eat pie– he answered.
When everyone is yours and you are theirs
And he adds that he probably inherited his talent for languages. He has good hearing and sings well. His father is a good singer, he sang for a long time in CAA Krajina.
He spoke Spanish, he says, suddenly. And he speaks it perfectly. He says the locals are also surprised.
He didn’t make a problem out of it. In general, it seems that he tries and lives much more peacefully than it seems to us.
Because, from the side, everything, everything looks much more tense.
– When they ask me about the pressure, I say – well, my people, I play, I play basketball. Yes, it is often for a heart attack. And I am cool…
To him, the biggest in the world is when everyone in the world is watching Real on the floor, they see a jersey that says – Musa.
– I don’t particularly experience everything else. I recently talked about this with Džeko. We are not aware of our influence. We are not aware of how others perceive us. That’s why it’s nice for me in Sarajevo, in Bihać, in Bosnia. When I’m home. When everyone is yours and you are theirs – he admits.
What are you dreaming about, I ask him, once all this is over. Although, honestly, this question is redundant for me now. Musa plays like never before.
And he dreams. To return home. To work with young people. Let basketball be, as it used to be, a cause for joy. To be what he loves, he knows. And he will.
He dedicated his first trophy won in Real to great Mirza Delibašić.
– I have great respect for what that man has done for the country and I wish he was alive to give me some advice. I am an emotional person and I love people who fight for my country. I think he is the best sportsman that Bosnia and Herzegovina has seen, so I am happy to play for Madrid just like him and to say that there was another Bosnian in Real – he said once.
And legendary Kindže would have been proud of Musa. Another Bosnian in Real. Great athlete. Great man!