By Tenzin Lekhden
DHARAMSHALA, Oct. 22: Ahead of the Boston Celtics’ season opener, NBA veteran Enes Kanter, going into his 10th season, condemned China’s “brutal dictator Xi Jinping” for committing human rights atrocities against Tibetans in a video published across various social media platforms.
Following the release of the video, the Boston Celtics vs New York Knicks game scheduled to broadcast live on Tencent (NBA’s official Chinese broadcast partner) was cut from the platform. Two years ago the Houston Rockets game was pulled from Chinese broadcasting and streaming platforms after a tweet from Daryl Morey, the team’s General Manager, who showed solidarity with the protesters in Hong Kong.
Kanter wore a custom “Free Tibet” shoe for the opening game, designed by Badiucao, a Chinese-Australian artist. The paintings on the shoe commemorate the more than 150 Tibetans who have self-immolated in protest against China’s tyranny over Tibet.
The basket ball player of Turkish descent is not new to standing up for human rights and speaking up against powerful totalitarian governments. He is well known for his outspoken criticisms against the Turkish president. The Turkish government, in 2018, had charges made against him for belonging to a terrorist group and had demanded his extradition. Kanter has denied the charges.
In a game that went to double overtime, the Celtics were missing their multiple All-Star Centre Al Horford due to injury and the Knicks had All-Star big Julius Randle who filled the stats sheet. But Kanter didn’t play in the game. Many say that his absence may be mandated by Celtics or the NBA and that it has parallels with the NFL and Colin Kaepernick saga. Garry Kasparov, the Russian chess grandmaster and political activist tweeted, “Another bold stand by my friend @EnesKanter. Is it a coincidence that he sat on the bench against the Knicks tonight in double overtime? Or is the NBA’s love of Chinese money more important that the rights of their players and China’s victims?
The NBA has often turned a blind eye to issues that are certain to spark conflict with China. A journalist for The spectator, Melissa Chen pointed out the NBA’s double standard tweeting that “Either [the NBA] support [Kanter’s] activism (as they did BLM) and lose billions or silence him & reveal it has no principles.”
China is NBA’s largest multi-billion-dollar market outside the United States and risks losing business investments and a large dedicated audience if they support issues deemed sensitive by Beijing. The NBA and its array of talk shows and anchors have not talked on this story that has been picked up by every major media houses. Their silence highlights a capitalistic inclination that lies at the root of this moral hypocrisy, as pointed out by many critics.
On Thursdays, according to Wenhao, in a shared screenshot on Twitter, a Chinese spokesperson commented that “Kanter’s remarks aren’t worth being rebuked” and further made comments highlighting “how much development China has brought to Tibet.”
According to ESPN, D.C.-based Office of Tibet released a statement that read, “We are thankful to Enes Kanter, NBA player for speaking in support of Tibet. In a two minutes’ video message he summed up the existential threat faced by the Tibetans under Chinese communist rule. Every word that he said is true.”
Students for a Free Tibet coordinated a meeting between Enes Kanter and the Tibetan community of New York on the 19th of October. SFT’s Lobsang Tseten and Kanter “discussed the parallels between Enes’ inability to return to Turkey because he would face political persecution, and the situation of most Tibetans in exile who cannot risk returning to Tibet”, SFT said in their report.
“Kanter” is now officially banned on Weibo, tweets Wenhao. His team, the Boston Celtics, games have been banned in China. The Celtics and the NBA have not commented on the issue.