Enes Kanter of the Boston Celtics is a hero. He stood up to the thuggish, repressive regime of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in his native Turkey. His criticism of Erdoğan probably put him in physical danger. Kanter fled Indonesia where he was holding a basketball camp for children, after his manager told him Turkish intelligence agents had been sent to capture him.
Now, Kanter has taken on the mother of all thuggish, repressive regimes — Red China. He released a powerful video (see below) lambasting the Red Chinese regime for its unconscionable treatment of Tibet.
In the two-minute video, Kanter documents China’s reign of “cultural genocide” against Tibet. He calls out Chinese president Xi Jinping, labeling him, correctly, a “brutal dictator.”
He does this while wearing a T-shirt featuring an image of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. And he notes that any Tibetan who owns a picture of the Delai Lama faces arrest for that act alone.
Kanter went further. He appeared for Boston’s game against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday wearing brightly colored shoes saying “Free Tibet.” But Kanter didn’t take the court in that game. He was an un-used reserved in the Celtics’ overtime loss. (More on this below.)
The Chinese government’s reaction to Kanter’s video was as swift as it was predictable. The Chinese video-streaming giant Tencent cut the live broadcast of the game between the Celtics and the Knicks. According to the Washington Post, the Tencent Sports app notes that upcoming Celtics games will not be broadcast live. Instead, unlike other NBA games, they will be reported by text and photo — if even that, when the dust settles.
The question now is how the NBA will respond. When Daryl Morey, a team executive, voiced support for freedom in Hong Kong, the NBA kowtowed to Red China. Morey, presumably under pressure, said it was not his intention to offend anyone. The NBA’s enormous Chinese revenue stream was saved.
Given the nature of Kanter’s cry from the heart, he has no such out. It’s almost certain, moreover, that he doesn’t want one.
What about the NBA, though? Will it again kowtow to China by apologizing (in effect), punishing Kanter, or both? Or will the Association, always ready to exalt players who stand up against injustices in the U.S. — real and imagined — remain neutral toward Kanter as he opposes injustice, repression, and persecution on a scale unimaginable in America?
And what about the Celtics? As noted, Kanter didn’t play in last night’s game. It was Boston’s first game of the season, so there is no reliable playing-time comparison (pre-shoes vs. post-shoes) available.
On the one hand, Kanter is pretty far down Boston’s depth chart, at least according to ESPN. On the other hand, with Al Horford out injured, the non-use of Kanter meant that the Celtics’ starting center played 45 out of 50 possible minutes, and that the Celtics played “small” — without two “big men” — for much of the game. The Knicks, by contrast, played “big,” and Julius Randle, one of their big men, scored 35 points.
My guess is that, in the words of that old Michael Jordan/Nike commercial, “it’s gotta be the shoes.”
Kanter was once a quality starting center in the NBA. He’s still no worse than a quality backup.
Last season, playing for Portland, Kanter averaged 11 points per game in 24 minutes of playing time, which is better than solid. He made 60 percent of his field goal attempts, which is outstanding. And he averaged 11 rebounds, a superlative per-minute output. The Celtics’ starting center against the Knicks, Robert Williams, put up less impressive points and rebounds per-minute numbers last season, although I think he’s a better defender.
Thus, if Kanter’s NBA career tanks after his courageous support of Tibet, my conclusion will be, it’s gotta be the Chinese.
You can view Katner’s statement on Tibet below, beginning at around the 4-minute, ten-second mark.