Basketball professional Enes Kanter used to lash out at his criticism – and he didn’t allow himself to be derailed for years. The 29-year-old NBA player from the Boston Celtics mocked longtime Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with his remarks and only posted a photo of a Turkish arrest warrant against him on Twitter two weeks ago. His Turkish passport is said to have been withdrawn since 2017, and Kanter is considered stateless. But now fellow national teammate Dennis Schroeder has picked new targets: China, Chinese President Xi Jinping, the upcoming Winter Games in Beijing and Nike. The allegations range from human rights abuses to profits from “modern slavery”.
Since October 20 – the day the Celtics played their first game of the new NBA season – Kanter has posted nine tweets. Recently, on Saturday, he posted and wrote to the Chinese government and “insecure tyrant” Xi Jinping that the host role for the Winter Olympics should not be allowed. He also posted pictures of his basketball shoes with a special design – including the slogans “No Beijing 2022”, “No rights – no games” and “Games postponed”. Nike is accused of defending minority rights in the US, but not in China. The series began with a call for Tibetan freedom, with Kanter calling Xi Jinping a “brutal dictator.”
The behavior immediately caused severe reactions in China – again. The Beijing government will not tolerate lectures from the West on the human rights situation. During the match in which the NBA star was wearing the shoe bearing the Tibetan logo, the Chinese Internet service Tencent cut off the broadcast. Suddenly millions of fans in China could no longer watch the match.
However, criticism of Tencent was not found in the tightly censored Chinese social media after that. Instead, Kanter was insulted by countless users for days and asked to apologize to the Chinese people. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing also commented on the case, accusing the athlete of merely trying to attract attention.
This isn’t the first time the NBA has been caught in the crossfire over a political statement in China. Daryl Morey, then-manager of the Houston Rockets and now in charge of the Philadelphia 76ers, briefly posted a photo on Twitter two years ago with the words “Fight for Freedom – Stand with Hong Kong” (“Fight for Freedom, Support Hong Kong”). Then the Chinese Basketball Association ended its cooperation with the NBA team, and some matches were ignored by Chinese television stations. The 76ers meet in China will not be broadcast.
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The Chinese leadership has no joke when Western athletes or activists call for a boycott of the upcoming Winter Games in Beijing. A State Department spokesperson warned in April that any boycott would result in an “obvious reaction” from China.
So Kanter knows who’s messing around now. But threats have not silenced the center in the past. But the 29-year-old is not without fear. He has several times reported concerns about being killed outside the United States for his criticism of Erdogan. In 2019, he decided not to travel to England and Canada with his team at the time, the Portland Trail Blazers.
But in his October 24 tweet, Kanter also wrote to Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party: “I will never apologize for telling the truth. You can’t buy me. You can’t scare me. You can’t silence me.”
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