Kanter paying the price for speaking out against Turkish leader Erdogan

Emmanuel Rodriguez, Associate Sports Editor

Enes Kanter is a Turkish professional basketball player for the New York Knicks who has used his platform to speak up. Following in the footsteps of Colin Kaepernick and LeBron James, who have voiced their opinions on social injustices, Kanter has spoken out on the president of his homeland, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Because of this, Kanter was at home in New York, rather than with his teammates in London Thursday afternoon as the Knicks fell to the Washington Wizards, 101-100, after refusing to travel overseas because he feared for his life.

Kanter moved from Turkey to the United States in 2009 to earn a high school diploma, along with a greater opportunity to play basketball at the highest level, the National Basketball Association (NBA). Kanter has not returned to Turkey since.

Kanter wrapped up his brief high school career in California and earned himself a chance to play for John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats. However, because Kanter played for youth teams in Turkey and was compensated for it, he was deemed ineligible by the NCAA. He declared for the 2011 NBA Draft and was selected third overall by the Utah Jazz.

After nearly four years of disappointing play in Salt Lake City, Kanter was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015.

But in 2016, there was a failed coup d’etat attempt in his home country reportedly led by Fethullah Gulen.

Gulen is a Turkish political figure who has been exiled and lives in Pennsylvania. He is also someone who Kanter supports. Gulen has repeatedly denied any type of affiliation with the failed attempt to overthrow the government.

In the wake of the worldwide news, Erdogan called for a purge. It led to over 50,000 arrests of military officials, police officers, governors, judges, teachers and university deans, some of which have been awaiting trial since July 2016.

This led to Kanter tweeting about the events, which caught the attention of Erdogan. His family has fallen victim to Erdogan’s power as his father, an ordinary college professor, has been imprisoned for being a member of “a terror group” and could serve 10-15 years, according to Kanter.

Kanter alleges his beliefs against the president has also led to the Turkish national team snubbing him from call-ups to play in international competitions, along with shoe companies turning the other way in signing a sneaker deal.

On May 20, 2017, Kanter was in Jakarta, Indonesia hosting a basketball clinic for his charity.

While Kanter was sound asleep, he heard a knock on his door.

“Around 2:30 something my manager knocked on my door and then I opened it and he’s like we need to talk,” Kanter told CBSSports.com. I was like okay and then I went to his room. Start talking and he’s like we have a problem. I said what’s the problem? He said the Turkish government or embassy called Indonesia and said Enes Kanter’s there and he’s a dangerous man and we need to talk to him. And they sent the secret service and the army to the school I just had a basketball clinic with.”

Without hesitation, Kanter packed up and headed to the airport in an attempt to flee the country. He was able to escape Indonesia and boarded a plane to Singapore. In Singapore, he boarded another plane but when his flight landed in Bucharest, Romania, Kanter was detained.

The Turkish Embassy had canceled his passport, leaving Kanter stranded in Eastern Europe. While at the airport, Kanter took to Twitter again and uploaded a video of his situation. In the video, he calls Erdogan “a bad, bad man” and “the Hitler of our century.”

Kanter was finally able to get on a plane to London and back to the United States and credits the Department of Homeland Security, Oklahoma City Thunder team lawyers and Oklahoma state officials for being able to get him back to the U.S.

Shortly thereafter, the Turkish government released a warrant for Kanter’s arrest accusing him of being a member of a “terror group.” The Turkish government looks to imprison Kanter for four years and will be tried in absentia. All of these actions have also led to Kanter receiving constant death threats, some of which say “you will die soon” with sinister images of nooses and weapons.

The Turkish government also released a statement saying that any charged citizens who failed to come to Turkey by September of 2017 could face revocation of citizenship. Soon thereafter, Kanter identified himself as stateless.

On September 25, 2017, Kanter was traded to the New York Knicks. Because the Knicks are division rivals with the Toronto Raptors, questions rose of whether or not Kanter would be able to play twice a year in Canada. The issues were not resolved until a matter of hours before the Knicks boarded a plane to Toronto as Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau allowed the player to enter the country, even without a valid passport.

In 2018, the Knicks and Washington Wizards were selected and scheduled to play a game at The O2 Arena in London, England which would take place this afternoon.

On Jan. 5, shortly after a Knicks win over the Portland Trail Blazers, Kanter, who at this time had been mentioned in trade rumors, told the media that he would not travel with the team to the United Kingdom because he fears for his life.

“That freaking lunatic, the Turkish president. There’s a chance I can get killed out there,” Kanter said in the locker room. “It’s pretty sad that all this stuff affects my career because I want to be out there and help my team win.”

Kanter has used this unfortunate event to speak out more than ever and this time using the much larger New York media, which has broadcasted his story to a national news level as opposed to the sports news level, which was the only way his story was shared. He has been interviewed on CNN, CBS News and NowThis and his story has also been reported on by print media including the New York Times. He even published an opinion piece in the Washington Post.

“Some of my teammates and coaches don’t understand what I’m doing by speaking out, but they support me, for which I am grateful. They have become part of my surrogate family here in the United States,” wrote Kanter in his piece in the Washington Post. “My decision not to travel to London was difficult from a competitive standpoint but much easier from a safety one. It helps puts a spotlight on how a dictator is wrecking Turkey — people have been killed, thousands are unjustly imprisoned, and countless lives have been ruined. That is no game.”

Kanter, who has used Twitter to trash talk opposing players like Devin Booker and Jared Dudley, recently got into some Twitter beef with Hedo Turkoglu, a fellow native of Turkey who played 15 seasons in the NBA. Turkoglu, an adviser to Erdogan, tweeted that Kanter wouldn’t be able to go to London because of passport and visa issues, not because he feared for his life. Turkoglu then said Kanter is simply trying to get attention with his political remarks.

Kanter fired right back at Turkoglu with a picture of his valid visa and called him “Erdogan’s lap dog.. Keep wagging your tail” with the #DictatorErdogan, which he has consistently used for years when speaking about Turkish politics.

Aside from the interviews, articles and tweets, Kanter has also traveled recently. He has posted numerous pictures on Twitter of him meeting United States government officials like Senators Marco Rubio, Chuck Schumer and James Lankford, Congressman Eliot Engel, Lee Zeldin, Adam Schiff and Chairman of the House and Knicks fan, Hakeem Jeffries.

All of Kanter’s recent headlines caused the Turkish government to issue an international arrest warrant on January 16, 2019, and to be extradited, which transpired to Kanter sending a tweet saying Turkey has no evidence of any wrongdoing, not even a parking ticket.

There is no word or indication that Kanter will be arrested here in the United States and extradited to Turkey to face prison time. There’s no belief that Justin Trudeau would let that happen in Canada. The President of the United States has yet to comment on anything about this situation thus far.

One thing’s for certain, the never-ending saga of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Kanter has no resolution in sight, not in the near future, not in the distant future.

The New York Knicks are currently 10-34 and are the third worst team in the league at the moment.