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Enes Kanter Defied Beijing. How Will The NBA React?

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Turkish basketball player Enes Kanter, the center of the Boston Celtics, has used his Twitter account and his status as a professional sportsman to criticize the Chinese Communist Party’s widespread attacks against the Tibetan and the Uyghur people. Kanter also directly singled out the Chinese leader Xi Jinping, calling him a “heartless dictator” and warning the CCP that he will continue to single out Beijing’s abuses, putting the NBA at a crossroads between defending their players” free speech and kowtowing to Beijing.

Kanter began his public protests against the Chinese government on October 20th, posting a video on his Twitter account condemning China’s occupation of Tibet,  calling Xi Jinping a “brutal dictator”. Tibet has been under Chinese occupation since 1950 when troops from the People’s Liberation Army occupied the country, however, the majority of the country’s loyalty lies with the Buddhist spiritual leader of the region, the Dalai Lama, who has been in exile for decades.

Kanter then tweeted out against the massive repressive campaign the Chinese Communist Party has led against the Uyghur people in the Xinjian region, where the Chinese government has deployed a coordinated campaign to erase the Uyghur’s religion and identity, forcefully sterilized thousands, and constructed concentration camps where up to a million of Turkic people have been detained.

The Chinese government has imprisoned thousands of Uyghur in Xinjiang (EFE)

Enes Kanter has criticized dictators before

Xi Jinping is not the only dictator who has been criticized by the Boston Celtics center, with Turkish President Recep Tayit Erdogan also being denounced by Kanter on numerous occasions. In fact, the Turkish government has maintained a systematic effort to silence Kanter, who was born in Switzerland to Turkish parents and was raised in Turkey.

Back in 2017, the Erdogan regime revoked his passport, a move the player said was due to his outspoken criticisms of the government. Kanter’s family has also been under the sights of the authoritarian Erdogan government, with his dad being imprisoned for seven years until he was released in mid-2020. Erdogan has not only targeted Kanter and his family but even the Boston Celtics, with Turkish TV stations refusing to air the playoff games of the Boston team.

The latest attack from Erdogan against Kanter happened just a few months ago, when the Turkish government issued up to nine different arrest warrants against Enes, with the government also actively trying to extradite Kanter over alleged ties he had with a critic of Erdogan who the regime accuses of being behind the 2016 failed military coup.

Will the NBA stand with Enes Kanter or with Xi Jinping?

Just like Erdogan, the Chinese government has already moved to punish Kanter due to his political views. Celtics’ games have already been pulled out from Chinese Streaming service Tencent and even a Celtic’s fan page on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, said they will stop publishing any content on the team due to Kanter’s outspoken criticisms of the CCP.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has also fired back against Kanter’s, with the spokesman from the Foreign Ministry saying that Kanter’s criticisms are “not worth refuting” and that “we will never accept those attacks to discredit Tibet’s development and progress”.

The reaction against Kanter’s tweets is not the first time that China has come against the NBA due to political opinions. During the midst of the Hong Kong protests against Chinese influence in the autonomous city, the former general manager of the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey tweeted out a post supporting the protesters’ cause against Beijing.

Ma'Khia Bryant, LeBron James
LeBron James, an outspoken activist at home, has remained silent on Beijing’s atrocities abroad (EFE)

The reaction from China was swift. Chinese broadcaster pulled out Houston Rockets games from the air, where basketball is one of the most followed sports, the Chinese basketball association suspended cooperation with the Rockets, and one of the financial sponsors of the team also halted its partnership with the Texas team.

Morey’s tweet was not only criticized in China, but also within the world of American professional basketball.  The owner of the Brooklyn Nets, Joe Tsai, posted a long Facebook post chastising Morey for his tweet, saying that there were some issues that were extremely sensitive in some communities and that “supporting a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is one of those”.  NBA superstar LeBron James, who has been extremely outspoken in contentious American issues, also criticized Morey, saying that he was “not educated” on Hong Kong.

The NBA, which has been notorious for engaging in controversial issues in America, issued conflicting statements apologizing for Morey’s comments.

The NBA and many of its stars have taken pride in the way the league handled its response after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. However, they will now have to face a real challenge on their alleged commitment to justice: Will the NBA side with their player’s right to speak out against injustice around the world or will it side with the Beijing regime, which is committing genocide against Chinese-Muslims, in order to save its financial bottom line?

In a statement released to the press in 2020, the NBA said that “ issues of systemic racism and police brutality in our country need to end’. The Uyghur people are facing a system of systemic racism and police brutality in China, if the Uyghur people have the same basic rights that Americans aspiring to live in a world without state-sponsored racism, then the NBA should keep their word and defend the free speech of its players and managers against the atrocities of the Xi Jinping regime.

Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.

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