Enes Kanter Freedom explains China protest and name change

Monday marked the best day of Enes Freedom’s life, the day he became a US citizen and officially changed his name from Kanter. The ceremony was the culmination of Turkey revoking his passport and placing an international criminal alert because of his outspokenness about their government — his former lack of freedom.

Politicians needed to create special channels to guarantee his access to Canada for Christmas in 2019. This week, his and the Celtics’ first in Toronto since, Freedom passed through without issue, knowing within days he would have access to an American passport.

Kanter won’t appear as his last name on it. It reads “Freedom,” an ode to the constitutional rights he now enjoys and contrasts to countries like Turkey, Syria, North Korea and the People’s Republic of China, which don’t protect free speech.

After practice on Tuesday, he recalled a story about when he arrived to the league and heard a teammate criticizing President Barack Obama.

“I was like, ‘what’re you doing?’,” Freedom asked the teammate then. “They’re going to throw you into jail … (the teammate) was like, ‘don’t worry brother, this isn’t Turkey.’”

From there, Freedom realized the differences between the US and Turkey and began speaking out about the injustices in his former home. It led to separation from his family, country, threats against his life, and an incident outside a Massachusetts mosque where someone accosted Freedom and then teammate, Tacko Fall. The FBI even gave him a panic button during one of his Portland stints.

Freedom’s interest in human rights and democracy grew, and recently resulted in him controversially calling out LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and the People’s Republic of China this season. He responded to those criticisms today, affirming that he asked Adam Silver for permission and the commissioner replied that he could speak out on his causes.

That included an appearance on Fox News yesterday, where he criticized those who critique America. Freedom acknowledged partisan forces overlap with his push to pass legislation, international sanctions for freedom rights, a boycott against the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing, but asserted he is not an advocate for either party.

“I never had a side. I’m not a Democrat or a Republican,” Freedom said. “I said that from Day One … I don’t do politics. I do human rights.”

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Freedom looked back at one of his basketball camps this past summer, which he’s done in recent years for free all over the country. When a parent called him out for not speaking up on behalf of the Muslim Uyghur population in mainland China currently being subjected to a genocide, he told that parent he didn’t have enough information at the time, did research, then took it up as a cause this season.

That extended to calling for James to do the same, given his business relationship with Nike and their significant investment in Chinese labor. Freedom depicted James kneeling down to People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping on his shoes during last week’s Lakers game. He said Tuesday he came up with the idea on his own, in hopes of using shoes to inspire young fans like past athletes have.

James, responding after the game, rebuffed Freedom for using his image as an opportunity for himself and not speaking to him one-on-one when he had the chance. Freedom said on Tuesday that he was taking a photo with a fan when James walked by him, but he plans on continuing to challenge other athletes to do their research before they sign a deal like James did.

“Nike, to me, is the biggest hypocrite company out there,” Freedom said. “They stand for Black Lives Matter in America, amazing. They stand with Latino community, no Asian hate, they stand with LBGTQ community, but when it comes to some of the countries out there like China, they remain silent. They are using these players to become the face, like Christiano Ronaldo for soccer, LeBron for basketball … but they’re becoming puppets. So I feel like we need to be careful about what we’re wearing, because every time they put those items on your feet or your back, there’s so much blood, sweat and oppression on those items.”

Freedom is willing to sit with James when the team travels to LA next week. Freedom added that he’s not scared of anyone, and hopes more players will join him like he joined the protests over George Floyd’s death and the police shooting of Jacob Blake over the summer. He got inspiration from his involvement — namely that silence is violence.

He also acknowledged the money Jordan gave to pro-Black causes over the years since his infamous “Republicans wear sneakers, too” line following his refusal to support Harvey Gantt in a North Carolina Senate race against the segregationist Jesse Helms in 1990. Freedom wants to hear Jordan speak on issues, not just give money in support of social movements.

While head coach Ime Udoka has said throughout this season the team doesn’t discuss Freedom’s protest, he did acknowledge earlier this month a conversation he and Freedom had about his lack of minutes. Freedom had posted on social media about being limited “on the court,” which some took as him not being played over his protest.

Celtics games have been shut off in mainland China since Freedom’s protest began, and Freedom confirmed Udoka told him his lack of playing time was strictly due to basketball. Kanter had originally posted in support of Tibetan independence from the PRC before opening night.

The broadcast of the Celtics’ season-opening game against the New York Knicks was pulled by Chinese video-streaming site Tencent, while fans took to Chinese social media to denounce Kanter and the Celtics.

The website for Tencent Sports also indicated that upcoming Celtics games would not be livestreamed, rather just an interactive graphic shown instead.

On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, a Celtics fan page with approximately 615,000 followers posted that it would not be posting updates from the team because of a player’s social media oversights — CNN

Kanter’s protest follows Daryl Morey’s “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong” tweet in 2019 that set off a PR crisis in the league that lead to the NBA’s shutdown on state television for some time and criticism of Morey from James. The NBA eventually returned to Tencent.

“That’s how I felt and I put it out there,” Freedom said. “After that talk we had, I pretty much played every game.”

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