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Enes Kanter Says NBA Officials Initially Pressured Him Not to Call Out China — But Eventually Relented

Boston Celtics player Enes Kanter before a game against the Washington Wizards at TD Garden in Boston, Mass., October 27, 2021. (Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)

Basketball star Enes Kanter said recently that two unnamed NBA officials begged him not to wear his “Free Tibet” sneakers during a game earlier this season, but ultimately relented and apologized at half time for the request.

Kanter also said that NBA commissioner Adam Silver subsequently affirmed his right to speak out against injustice in China, including its system of concentration camps, forced labor, and high-tech surveillance against the Uyghur community in Xinjiang.

Kanter told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday that Silver said the Boston Celtics center had not broken any league rules in speaking out against China, including when Kanter called out the country for its treatment of Tibet, which led Chinese video-streaming site Tencent to pull the Celtics’ season opener. Kanter also recently wore custom shoes adorned with the phrases “Modern Day Slavery” and “No More Excuses” during a game against the Charlotte Hornets and called out Nike  for its silence on injustice in China.

Amanpour noted that Tencent pays more than $1 billion to the NBA and asked if the NBA minds him speaking out. 

He said when we wore shoes that said “free Tibet” on them NBA staff begged him to take the shoes off because they had been receiving complaints.

Kanter said he asked them if there is a rule he was breaking by wearing the shoes and they said no.

“I’m getting ready for my citizenship test and I’ve been studying really hard and there’s 27 amendments and my first amendment is the great amendment, the freedom of speech,” he said, adding that he told the NBA staff that he knows his rights and that they “cannot take my rights away.”

“NBA made me do this,” Kanter said. “Because every time when one of the NBA teams or the commissioner comes out to speak, they say we are encouraging players to talk about whatever they want to talk about.”

“We are giving freedom to our players to talk about all the injustices happening around the world, all the human rights abuses around the world. So, they gave me this right,” he added.

The Turkish basketball star also pointed out that he received no pushback from the league over the course of the ten years he spent speaking out against human rights abuses in his home country, but was met with resistance when he turned his attention to China.

Kanter says he sat down privately with Silver and other NBA officials who affirmed his right to free speech.

“I told [Silver]… am I breaking any rules?” Kanter said. “He said, no, you’re not breaking any rules.”

Kanter questioned why the league has yet to release a public statement on the issue. 

“If they were really supporting me, they would have put something out there. They would have put out some kind of statement,” he said.

“People think I do politics, I don’t do politics. I do human rights,” he added. 

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