Controversial Ex-Celtic Says NBA Is Blackballing Him

Enes Kanter Celtics

Getty Enes Kanter is introduced as a member of the Boston Celtics at a press conference in 2019.

Just because he’s stopped playing doesn’t mean he’s stopped talking. After the Boston Celtics traded Enes Freedom in February to the Houston Rockets, where he was promptly waived, the politically outspoken center has yet to find a new home in the NBA. Because no NBA team has shown interest in signing him after his speaking out against China, there’s a growing belief (among Freedom’s followers) that he’s being blackballed by the NBA. It appears Enes himself very much believes there’s a conspiracy.

On April 15, Freedom was featured in an article for the Greek publication The National Herald, where he was asked about what he believed went down leading up to his supposed banishment from the NBA. Freedom said it made no sense given his on-court performance.

“Last year I was in Portland and I had average doubles-doubles and we went to the playoffs,” said Freedom, who averaged 11.2 points and 11 rebounds per game in 2020-21. “I was key. They come and tell me after a year that I forgot how to play basketball?”

He said he believed his anti-China comments ultimately sealed his fate as an outcast. He said the NBA cares more about its financial interests than its players’ freedom of speech. A CNBC story from July 2021 said the league’s operations in China is “worth more than $5 billion.”

“When I started talking about what was happening in China, the Celtics were cut off from Chinese television,” Freedom said. “That cost the NBA money. So the NBA says it stands by us for freedom of speech. I do not believe it. In other words, he stands, as long as what we say helps his pocket, otherwise they will do everything they can to finish you. I say this because they are trying to get me to retire at 29.”


Freedom Keeping His Options Open

Freedom said he still hoped to find a spot on an NBA roster.

“I know I can play another six to seven years because I love basketball, I’m healthy and I think people can see that I deserve to be in the NBA,” said Freedom, who was raised in Turkey and became a U.S. citizen in November 2021. If returning to the NBA isn’t an option for him, he said he would consider playing professional basketball overseas.

“My first goal is to play in the NBA and I want to be there,” Freedom said. “However, if this does not happen, I have grown up watching Panathinaikos, Olympiakos, and other teams, while my brother, who played last year in Greece and Kolossos Rhodes, told me how good it is there.”

However, Freedom said he’d like to meet Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis before making any decisions, if it were to come to that.


Celtics Have Not Skipped a Beat Without Freedom

When Boston acquired Freedom before the 2021-22 season, they did so to conserve 35-year-old Al Horford and be cautious with injury-prone Robert Williams III. On paper, bringing back Freedom, who played with the Celtics in 2019-20, seemed a wise move because he could fill those gaps and because he had familiarity with the team’s best players.

At the February 10 trade deadline, Celtics used Freedom as contract filler to get Daniel Theis back from Houston. After trading Freedom, they posted the following numbers, according to NBA.com.

Record: 20-6 (first in the NBA)
Offensive Rating: 121.6 (First)
Defensive Rating: 108.3 (First)
Net Rating: Plus-13.3 (First)

Regarding that last statistic, the next team down after the Celtics in that category was the Memphis Grizzlies, who had a net rating of plus-7.2.

Trading Freedom wasn’t the reason for their late-season run because the Celtics didn’t appear to trust Freedom that much when he was with the team. He played in 35 of the Celtics’ first 56 games, playing only 411 total minutes and averaging 3.7 points and 4.2 rebounds, according to NBA.com.

For comparison, Theis averaged 7.9 points and 4.7 rebounds in 393 minutes (21 games).

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