Imagine being a 21-year-old from Bosnia and Herzegovina who is experiencing life in America during these strange times while living in Brooklyn and trying to navigate the choppy waters of the NBA.
That is the prism through which second-season Nets forward Dzanan Musa views events related to the COVID-19 pandemic that has afflicted America at a time of social upheaval and protests related to police brutality and racial injustice.
The Nets are preparing to leave on Tuesday for Orlando, where the NBA will resume play later this month in the “bubble” at Disney World. Musa is working hard to take advantage of the opportunity he will have because the Nets’ roster has been depleted by injuries, illness and one opt-out. But as a stranger in a strange land, Musa has felt the impact of so much social turmoil deeply.
Speaking to reporters in a Zoom conference call on Monday, Musa was asked for his view of the Black Lives Matter movement that was sparked by the police killing of unarmed Black man George Floyd in Minneapolis. “It’s just terrible from my perspective,” Musa said. “First of all, I’m not from America, and to see that brutality happen, it hurts my heart a lot. I’m with Black Lives Matter all day. I think I’m going to change [the name] on my jersey to ‘Equality and Peace.’ It will be some kind of message.”
When Floyd was killed on May 25 after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, Musa was at practice. He first learned of the incident when his girlfriend called.
“She was crying because of that,” Musa said. “She was very emotional about it. She was telling me like, ‘Did you see what happened?’ I’m not too much on social media. The last three or four months, I’ve been trying to stay out of it. But when I saw it, it was horrifying.”
Musa hails from a part of the world that once was torn by war between different ethnic groups. Yet, Musa, who identifies as Croatian, said he never has witnessed the sort of police brutality in his country that he has seen in America.
“Never, never,” Musa said. “Especially in Croatia, I was playing, and every season, we had five or six American [Black players]. We respected them more than we respected each other because we didn’t want them to feel different from us. It’s just sad.”
During the NBA stoppage, the Nets have shared their feelings about social issues on group telephone and video chats. “I learned a lot, especially from Garrett Temple and Joe Harris, who were talking a lot about the situation and how it was before,” Musa said. “I’ve been here for two years, and I don’t know what the States were like before. They were kind of navigating me through the situation, and I’m just terrified. My heart hurts when I hear those things. It’s really crazy.”
Looking ahead to Orlando, Musa said it’s going to be strange playing without fans. As important as the playing time is for him, he’s trying not to “overthink” it and is trying to keep his focus on basketball rather than the threat presented by the COVID-19 spike in Florida.
At the same time, he’s surprised by the failure to control spread of the virus in the United States compared to Europe. “A lot of people didn’t pay attention at the beginning of COVID,” Musa said. “In my country, we closed right away because we didn’t have the luxury to get it open, and then, if we got too many diseases, we couldn’t handle it. But New York and America are going to get back on their feet soon.”
At least, that’s Musa’s hope.