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Video: NBA player says league officials threatened to ban him for criticizing China

Enes Kanter, then of the Portland Trail Blazers, on May 18, 2019 at Moda Center in Portland, Ore. (Frenchieinportland/Wikimedia Commons)
November 12, 2021

Boston Celtics player Enes Kanter said he was pressured by the NBA to stop criticizing the Communist Chinese Party (CCP) and threatened to ban him if he continued.

During an interview on CNN, Kanter said two league officials “begged” him to remove his “Free Tibet” shoes before a game. The unnamed officials also said Kanter could be banned from the NBA if he didn’t, despite telling him he wasn’t breaking the rules.

“I am for justice and freedom. It doesn’t matter who it’s for or against. I have been talking about all the human rights violations and injustices happening in Turkey for ten years, and I did not get one phone call,” said Kanter, who was raised in Turkey. “I talk about China one day and I was getting a phone call every two hours.”

“I will tell you a story. It was our first game, actually. It was at Madison Square Gardens and I wore ‘Free Tibet’ shoes and went out there. Right before the game, there were two guys from the NBA [who] came up to me and said, ‘You have to take your shoes off, we are begging you,’” Kanter continued.

“And I was like, I’m sorry, what are you talking about?” he added. “They said, ‘You have to take those shoes off. We are getting so many calls.’”

When Kanter asked if he was breaking any rules by wearing the anti-CCP shoes, the officials admitted he was not.

“Look, I’m getting ready for my citizenship test. I’ve been studying really hard. There are 27 amendments and the First Amendment is the greatest amendment: it’s the freedom of speech. I’m like, I know my rights. You cannot take my right away. You cannot take my rights away from me,” Kanter said. “I’m like I don’t care if I get fined, I’m not going to take my shoes off.”

“They told me, ‘We are not talking about getting fined, we are talking about getting banned,” he added.

Despite the intimidation, Kanter refused to take the shoes off if they were not breaking any rules. He noted that the officials approached him again at half-time and apologized for the earlier exchange.

“NBA made me do this,” Kanter said. “Every time one of the NBA teams or the commissioner [comes] out and speaks, they say, ‘We are encouraging our players to talk about whatever they want to talk about. We are giving the freedom to our players to talk about all of the injustices happening around the world, all of the human rights around the world, so they gave me this right. They told me to do this, basically.”

Kanter said he sat down with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who told him that he is not breaking any rules by speaking out against China. Kanter said Silver also assured the Celtics player that the league is “supporting [Kanter] against China.”

“I don’t know how much that is true, because if they were really supporting me, they would have put something out there. Some kind of statement,” Kanter said.

In late October, Kanter took to Twitter to call out Nike’s friendly relationship with the Chinese communist government, which is forcing Uyghurs – a Muslim minority in China – into slave labor camps. The basketball player demanded that Nike end the “modern day slavery.”

“Dear Nike, your company says that it is making a positive impact in our communities. And that is true. Yes, you are. Here in the United States, Nike stands with Black Lives Matter. Nike stands with Stop Asian Hate. Nike stands with the Latino community. And Nike stands with the LGBTQ community. And Nike remains vocal about injustice here in America. But when it comes to China, Nike remains silent,” Kanter said in a video posted to Twitter.