Why NBA player and political activist Enes Kanter added Freedom to his legal name: NPR



Steve Inskip, host:
A professional basketball player criticizes American athletes attending the Olympic Games in China. The Boston Celtics player is expanding his political activism. Since being heard on NPR, he has also changed his name.
How should I refer to you?
Freedom Enes Kanter: You could just say Ennis or my teammates call me Mr. Freedom.
Inscape: Mr. Freedom – Enes Kanter is now legal Enes Kanter Freedom.
Liberty: When you change your last name, it will be on the back of your shirt. My goal was to teach every child in the world.
Inscape: You’ve got an endorsement deal with Freedom.
Liberty: Exactly.
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Unidentified Announcer: Kanter is wide open for the finale.
Inskip: He’s known for using his full 6-foot-11-inch on several NBA teams over the past decade.
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Unidentified Announcer: There’s a Kanter, and he made a mistake.
Inscape: He’s also known for his backstory. He is an immigrant from Turkey, a follower of the exiled Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen. Turkey has accused Gulen’s religious movement of trying to overthrow the president and has arrested thousands. When Kanter defended the movement, Turkey revoked his passport.
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Scott Simon: Next week, the NBA is going to start its big game in London.
Inscape: He had to skip a game overseas, which he discussed on NPR in 2019.
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Simon: And why did you decide not to go to London?
Liberty: I didn’t really feel safe.
Inscape: He was afraid that Turkey would demand his extradition. He feels more comfortable traveling these days because he has become a US citizen after studying for the naturalization test.
Liberty: All my teammates have been asking me one by one, you know, about American history, about the current situation in America, about politics, about all that stuff.
Inscape: He’s still talking about Turkey. Fethullah visits Gulen, the movement’s leader who is in exile in Pennsylvania. He has also lobbied members of Congress on human rights issues. Last fall, he joined calls for a boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics over China’s treatment of the Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim minority.
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Liberty: There are many, you know, athletes, many actors, many celebrities who are afraid because if they criticize China, they will obviously be affected.
Inscape: So he said in a television appearance on Fox News.
Why did you decide to speak publicly about China?
Liberty: I remember doing basketball camp with Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. And after that, we were taking pictures. I was taking pictures with the kids. This parent pretty much called me in front of everyone. It’s like, How can you call yourself a human rights activist when your Muslim brothers and sisters are dying in concentration camps in China? I was like, I promise, I’ll get back to you. I was so ashamed of myself. I was like the last 10 years, talking about one topic and one country. I was like, I can’t believe I did this. You know, I was like, I’m going to do everything I can to get this out of the way and try to be the voice of the people out there.
Inscape: You called on American athletes to boycott China. This does not happen. But there is a diplomatic boycott. What do you think of the diplomatic boycott?
Freedom: I feel it’s definitely a good first step, but it’s not enough. I think all athletes need to come out and say, I’m not going to compete in a country where genocide is taking place. This is what I expect from athletes.
Inscape: In her criticism of China’s human rights record, Anees Freedom takes a bipartisan stance. He has taken that message to more partisan places. He appeared, for example, on the Fox show hosted by Tucker Carlson, who is known for promoting conspiracy theories about last year’s attack on democracy at the US Capitol.
(Audio of the TV show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight”)
Tucker Carlson: Mr. Ennis, Mr. Freedom, thank you very much for joining us. Congratulations on your citizenship.
Inscape: Carlson promoted the Great Replacement, the idea of, quote, “obedient immigrants” being brought here to outnumber what Carlson called inherited Americans. But he asked this immigrant to bring more people.
(Audio of the TV show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight”)
Carlson: If you have any siblings, tell them to come, please.
Inscape: And host Freedom asked if his colleagues and other Americans value America as much as he does.
(Audio of the TV show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight”)
Freedom: I feel they should just — please, they should just shut up and stop criticizing the greatest country in the world, and they should focus on, you know, their freedoms and their human rights and their democracy.
Inscape: On other forums, he specifically criticized fellow NBA player LeBron James, who, like the entire league, does a lot of business in China. LeBron once called a basketball executive who was misleading for talking about democracy in Hong Kong.
Why did you choose to criticize LeBron James over this?
Liberty: Well, I think LeBron — obviously LeBron is the face of Nike, you know, and the face of the NBA. But the reason I’m calling LeBron is because – he calls himself a human rights activist, he calls himself a social justice warrior.
Inscape: LeBron James has described himself as advocating, and quoting, “equality, social injustice and racism.” In Anis Freedom’s view, this makes it hypocritical to remain silent about China.
Isn’t this criticism true that, basically, for the entire NBA it’s the largest market for the NBA outside of the United States?
Liberty: Oh, yeah. I mean, players are just dummies. What we need to do is call these companies like, obviously, Nike — right? Because they are the ones using these athletes.
Inscape: But I’m just thinking, doesn’t the NBA have a giant TV deal with Chinese state television? Have you ever gone to league officials and said, Listen, what are you doing? I am part of this. I don’t like being a part of this.
Freedom: I didn’t talk to them about this. But obviously all the shirts and all the merchandise that we wear is Nike. And I’ve been — I’ve been trying to talk to some people about it, about what can we do? Because that’s just — obviously I call up Nike and go out there and still play in a Nike jersey. And this – I just don’t feel comfortable. So I’m thinking, like, what can we do about this?
Inscape: We’ve called out Nike for comment, but they haven’t responded.
I want to ask about one of the criticisms of you from Jemele Hill, who wrote the other day in The Atlantic.
Freedom: Yes.
Inscape: If I were to sum this up, as you say, you’re talking to right-wing figures like Tucker Carlson, and they have a different agenda than the one that’s about race in America and that kind of thing and that you’re used to. Do you worry about being taken advantage of or being used by someone?
Freedom: When the Black Lives Matter protests broke out two years ago – right? – I was third in the entire league, I got out there and protested with my hometown Boston, right? Because I know, even, when we were kneeling, I was like, This is what I believe in and I’m going to kneel with you guys, you know? The reason I appear on this program is because I go and talk about what is happening not only in Turkey and China but the problems that are happening all over the world. And they know where I am. They know where I stand with vaccination and gun control. They know my place with a lot of things they don’t like. You know, they could have a different agenda, yeah, but my agenda is to go out there and reach out to every single person in America.
Inscape: Ennis Freedom says he worries about division in his adoptive country. If he mentions gun control, he looks like he’s leaning left while he often looks like he’s leaning right. In our discussion, he criticized politicians who he said speak cynically about progressive issues like Black Lives Matter.
Liberty: Next week we’re talking about climate change. The following week, they talked about the Asian community, the Latino community, or the LGBTQ community. Whatever the direction, they’re talking about it so they can, I think, get more votes. They can get more clicks. They can get more retweets. You know, I feel like this is wrong.
Inscape: New Citizen Freedom’s Ennis Kanter says he’d like to focus on human rights and keep politics out of it. He prefers not to be seen as picking a team, though this is just as difficult in his new country as in his old one.
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