Kanter told CNN’s Christian Amanpour in an exclusive interview that despite speaking out on issues like Black Lives Matter, the NBA has remained silent about China — highlighting its struggle to balance player activity with the lucrative Chinese market.
“The NBA made me do it,” Kanter said. “Because every time an NBA team or commissioner comes out to speak, they say we encourage players to talk about what they want to talk about.
“We give our players the freedom to talk about all the injustices that are happening around the world, all the human rights violations around the world. So, give me that right.”
Kanter says he sat privately with NBA officials and commissioner Adam Silver, who said Silver supported Kanter’s right to free speech.
The Celtics Center says it has no intention of breaking NBA rules but is concerned about why the NBA has not yet issued a public statement on the issue.
“If they were really supportive of me, they would have put something out there. They would have made some kind of statement,” he said.
“People think I’m doing politics, and I’m not doing politics. I’m doing human rights.”
CNN has reached out to the NBA for comment but has not yet received a response.
Kanter, who grew up in Turkey, has also been vocal before in his criticism of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
As a result, he faced death threats, and says his father was arrested but ultimately acquitted of charges of belonging to a terrorist group. Kanter has not seen his family since 2015 after he said Turkey had revoked his passport.
Despite this, Kanter says he is determined to continue using his platform to fight for change and will continue to educate himself on various human rights issues related to China.
Much of his criticism was based on the injustices felt by the Uyghur community — the US State Department estimates that as many as 2 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have been detained in internment camps in China’s Xinjiang province since 2017.
China has repeatedly denied accusations of human rights abuses in the region.
“There are a lot of athletes, a lot of actors, a lot of singers and a lot of people who have a platform that speaks to many of the issues that are out there in the world.
But when it comes to China […] They are intimidated because they care a lot about money, they care a lot about business and they care a lot about endorsement deals.
“For me, human rights, and saving people’s lives, come first.”
Chinese officials continued to discredit Kanter’s claims and sent a statement to CNN ahead of his interview on Wednesday.
“The so-called ‘cultural genocide’ in Tibet, human rights violations in Xinjiang and ‘forced labor’ in China are baseless accusations and complete lies,” said a statement from the Chinese Embassy in London.
She added, “When it comes to the human rights situation in a country, the people of the country are best placed to pass judgment.
“The issues related to Tibet and Xinjiang are China’s internal affairs and do not bear any interference from outside forces.
Kanter also called on Nike to do more in combating injustice in China, specifically criticizing its silence on its treatment of the Uyghur community.
He said the company was profiting from forced labor and called Nike athletes who speak out against other social justice issues “hypocrites” for not using their votes against China.
Earlier this year, Nike issued a statement saying that it did not export products from the Xinjiang region.
“Nike is committed to ethical and responsible manufacturing and we adhere to international labor standards,” the statement said.
“We are concerned about reports of forced labor in and related to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
“Nike does not source products from XUAR and we have confirmed with our contract suppliers that they do not use textiles or yarns from the region.”
Nike was not immediately available to comment on Kanter’s recent comments when asked by CNN.
China says the camps are professional, meant to combat terrorism and separatism, and has repeatedly denied accusations of human rights abuses in the region.