Bigger Than Basketball

Enes Kanter recently signed a 2-year $10 Million contract with the Boston Celtics. The former Trailblazer joined All-NBA point guard Kemba Walker as the two noteworthy off-season Celtics free agent acquisitions. Kanter will fill the veteran offensive void left by the departure of Al Horford. One of the best post players in the NBA, Kanter averaged 13.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game on splits of 54.9/29.4/78.7 in 2018-2019. The University of Kentucky star was the 3rd pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, the highest for any Turkish-born player in NBA history. Kanter is also only the fourth first round Turkish NBA Draft Pick, joining Mirsad Türkan, Hedo Türkoğlu, and Furkan Korkmaz.

Beyond basketball, Kanter is most known for social media and human rights activism. The Turkish government accused Kanter of financially assisting a failed coup of the Turkish government in 2016. Turkey cancelled Kanter’s passport in 2017, issued a warrant for his arrest and threatened to revoke his citizenship. The Kanter family even publicly disowned Kanter as a result of constant harassment. Kanter refrained from traveling outside of the United States for work for fear of his life after being stranded stateless in Europe in 2017.

Kemba Walker (8) and Enes Kanter (11) were officially introduced as Boston Celtics Wednesday at a press conference. (Image credit: AP)

Culture Clashes on the Court

Enes Kanter’s only family contact is through his younger brother Kerem Kanter. Kerem last played college basketball at Xavier University, and now plays for France’s Pro A League. At the introductory press conference Kanter described his family as happy for him, but insisted his human rights activism took precedence. Imagine working in another country without the support of your family. Imagine not even being able to communicate with them.

Kanter is a devout Muslim and observes Ramadan, a month-long session of prayer and reflection, including fasting. This occurs during the NBA season, a constant source of scrutiny for Kanter during this religious period. This exact scenario nearly played out last season when Kanter was a member of the Portland Trailblazers. When you consider Kanter’s work ethic and dedication to the game, the commitment to his native country and exposing human rights violations, as well as his personal sacrifices, you clearly see the high-quality character Kanter possesses.

Enes Kanter directs kids at his youth basketball camp in West Hempstead, NY after the original camp was cancelled for political reasons. (Image credit: Howard Simmons)

Basketball Provides Platform

Enes Kanter has made it clear he appreciates his position as an NBA player. His stature allows him a voice not provided to many Turkish nationals or expatriates with human rights concerns. He has made several personal and professional sacrifices in his career to allow him to voice those concerns. Kanter can’t do it himself, evidenced by travel restrictions and safety concerns. Politics have even effected Kanter’s free youth basketball camps. The Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, NY cancelled the camp last week after external pressure. Kanter blamed Turkish representatives and the New York Turkish consulate for the cancelled youth camp, a claim those representatives deny.

Thankfully, more sensible heads prevailed. Kanter’s youth camp proceeded at the Island Garden in West Hempstead, NY after the intervention of Congresswoman Kathleen Rice. Kanter has now enlisted the help of over 20 senators and representatives to express his intentions and work with foreign governments to allow and ensure safe travel during games and events, including: Senators Ed Markey, Ron Wyden and Representatives Joe Kennedy, Peter King and Rice. Fans, teammates, camp attendees and myriad representatives either know or are beginning to see what Enes Kanter is all about. Now it’s Boston’s turn.