For many years now, veteran Turkish NBA center Enes Kanter, currently with the Boston Celtics, has spoken out against some of the world’s most powerful people, beginning with the president of his home country, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom he has accused of widespread human-rights violations. He made similar criticisms of the government of China, especially its president, Xi Jinping, in recent weeks.
But on Thursday, just ahead of the Celtics’ game against the Lakers at TD Garden in Boston, Kanter took new aim at a different powerful person—L.A. star LeBron James.
Kanter referenced the efforts that James had made for social justice domestically, but turned that around by questioning why James has not applied the same standard to international justice, particularly in China because the Nike shoes he endorses are made in that country.
Kanter unleashed on James, nicknamed the “King,” on Thursday, writing: “Money over Morals for the ‘King.’ Sad & disgusting how these athletes pretend they care about social justice They really do ‘shut up & dribble’ when Big Boss (China) says so. Did you educate yourself about the slave labor that made your shoes or is that not part of your research?”
Photos of Kanter’s painted shoes were attached, including an image of Xi placing a crown on James’ head.
Kanter Picked Quite a Moment to Tweet About LeBron
Certainly, the timing of Kanter’s tweet is notable, given that tomorrow is the only time that James and the Lakers will visit the Celtics this season. Adding to the intrigue is the drama over whether James will play against Boston, with ESPN reporting that the chances are 50-50. James has been out since November 4 with an abdominal muscle strain. While all indications are that James will be on the floor on Friday, that’s subject to change.
After years of public tussling with Erdogan, which resulted in the Turkish government issuing nine arrest warrants over the summer for Kanter, it now seems that China’s human-rights violations have captured Kanter’s attention.
Last month, Kanter tweeted a video, wearing a shirt with the image of the Dalai Lama, that called out Xi and China for human rights abuses in Tibet. “My message for the Chinese government is free Tibet,” Kanter said. “Tibet belongs to the Tibetans.”
Kanter discussed the stripping of rights from Tibet’s citizens and described Chinese rule in the region as, “brutal,” citing the arrest, beating and even execution of political dissidents. The government in China did not take kindly to Kanter’s criticism, and the streaming service Tencent was forbidden from airing Celtics games in the future.
Udoka: Kanter Benching About Basketball, Not Politics
Some had speculated that Kanter’s outspokenness on China was costing him his career. After playing in all 72 games last year in Portland, averaging 11.2 points and 11.0 rebounds for the season, shooting 60.4% from the field, things have cratered for Kanter now in his second stint with the Celtics (he played for Boston in the 2019-20 season.)
Kanter has averaged just 2.3 points and 2.8 rebounds this year, shooting an unsightly 36.4% from the field. He sent out a controversial tweet that appeared to be directed at the Celtics or the NBA in general when he wrote, “Keep limiting me on the court, I will expose you off the court.”
But coach Ime Udoka insisted that the lack of playing time (a career-low 7.8 minutes per game) is more related to Kanter’s being a poor fit in the Celtics’ switch-heavy defense than his thoughts on Tibet.
“I’ve talked to him and I saw it,” Udoka said. “One thing I tell the players, we have a lot of guys who aren’t playing, you know, could be playing and want to play. I talk to those guys about staying prepared, being professional and ready to play. … But our playing time reasoning is strictly based on basketball.”