Owen Klein | February 15, 2019
In an effort to expand the popularity basketball across the globe and establish it as part of the forefront of the global sports scene, the National Basketball Association (NBA) has added games that will take place in different countries around the world. One of these games, between the New York Knicks and the Washington Wizards, will take place in London on January 17th, 2019. While many fans, players, and coaches are excited to be playing in a new environment, Knicks star center Enes Kanter has said that he will not be attending the game in London. Kanter, who has stated that he could get killed in London by Turkish officials, has had numerous verbal confrontations with both the Turkish president and government. He has repeatedly condemned the Turkish Government throughout his professional career, which has subsequently led to Kanter being banned from Turkey, along with the controversial Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, labeling Kanter as part of a “terror group.” In a post-game press conference, Kanter expressed that he fears for his life. “Sadly, I am not going because of that freaking lunatic, the Turkish president,” Kanter said. “There’s a chance I can get killed out there. So that’s why I talked to the front office. I’m not going.” Later in the interview, when asked how he would be approached by Turkish officials and if it would actually be life-threatening, Kanter responded quickly: “Oh yeah, easy. They’ve got a lot of spies there. I can get killed very easy. That will be a very ugly situation” (Washington Post).
However, amidst all of the chaos that has been surrounding Kanter as of late, his dislike towards the government of his home country has been in progress for more than two years. On Kanter’s Twitter account, he posted a timeline following his relationship with the Turkish Government for the last two years, with a caption that read “FREEDOM IS NOT FREE” (Twitter). The first event on the timeline, which was created by ESPN and aired on SportsCenter, discussed Kanter’s reactions and thoughts on Twitter following the 2016 coup d’état attempt in Turkey, and how the Turkish Government reacted. In a tweet, Kanter remarked on the Turkish president, and how he is constantly abusing his power, referring to the president as a “dictator.” This tweet led to Kanter’s account being taken down in Turkey, a visible attempt to close off the possible connection between Turks and Kanter, as the president doesn’t want citizens of Turkey siding with Kanter. In May of 2017, the Turkish government issued an arrest warrant for Kanter. The warrant was issued because Kanter was accused (by the Turkish Government) of being a member of an “armed terrorist organization” (Washington Post). In May 2017, while Kanter was hosting his annual basketball camp in Indonesia, the Turkish Government cancelled his passport and attempted to have him detained. Fortunately, thanks to the Oklahoma City Thunder (the team he was playing for at the time), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the two Oklahoma Senators, Kanter was able to return to the U.S. no worse for wear. In the Players Tribune, Kanter reflected on this experience and how it made him more careful and aware of his surroundings. “At 2:30 a.m. I woke up. Somebody was knocking on my door. It was my manager. He looked very serious. ‘The police are looking for you,’ he said. He had gotten a call from one of his local contacts. The Indonesian police had come to my basketball clinic earlier in the evening. Why? Because they received a call from the Turkish government saying I was ‘a dangerous man.’ Now they were looking for me. They wanted to “talk” to me. If you’re from Turkey, you never think agents are just there to ‘talk.’”
Personally, I believe that Kanter’s actions and comments, though often considered controversial, have been a bold statement not only for the injustice he faces, but for injustice around the world. Kanter sacrificed his reputation in Turkey and among many Turks to fight for his cause. He is able to use his platform and influence, as one of the more well-known Turkish athletes, to spread his ideas of justice, equality, and anti-dictatorship. What especially helps Kanter is the way he expresses himself. He isn’t afraid to voice his opinion, even if a very powerful opponent is standing in the way. This part of Kanter’s personality is demonstrated both on and off the court. A couple of years ago, I was watching a basketball game with Kanter’s New York Knicks pitted against LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers. During the game, James seemed to be lightly scuffling with Knick rookie Frank Ntilikina. Without hesitation, Kanter made his way over to the small brawl, and immediately got into James’ face in a very intense manner, standing up for his fellow teammate. James is widely considered the best basketball player in the world, and for Kanter to stand up to James without thought is a great, literal example of Kanter standing up for what he believes in. And while Kanter standing up for his rookie teammate by confronting LeBron “The King” James is on a much smaller scale than Kanter standing up to the corrupt Turkish president and government, there are many parallels that can be drawn between the two.
All in all, Kanter is making many positives impacts amidst all of the drama that surrounds him. He is using his popular figure and big voice (both figuratively and literally) to speak out against injustice and cruelty when others are unable or unwilling to. He is providing an exemplary role-model figure for young minds aspiring to fight for what they believe is right. Kanter is also using social media, a thriving and constantly growing aspect of life, to further his argument and cause. However, as with almost everything in life, some of Kanter’s actions have generated unfortunate drawbacks for him. The most significant drawback has been the unjust detainment and arrest of Kanter’s father in Turkey. Kanter’s father, Mehmet Kanter, was forced to denounce Enes as a son in front of Turkish officials. Nevertheless, despite the drawbacks, such as his father’s detainment, I firmly believe that Kanter doesn’t regret his actions, as they set the tone for addressing the unjustified power that the Turkish government (as well as other governments) possesses. Moreover, Kanter’s actions and impact are encouraging other athletes and influencers to fight for what they believe in and speak out against the morally wrong and unjust, and this is something that we should all strive for.