Boston Celtics fans greeted center Enes Freedom with a standing ovation Wednesday night, when the censored social media critic of China checked into a game for the first time since changing his legal surname from Kanter in a U.S. citizenship ceremony.
Fans made their appreciation known as the vocal “Free China” player, whose criticism prompted Chinese television to pull all Celtics games in late October, checked into the game in his new “Freedom” jersey with 7:12 left in the first quarter of Boston’s 88-87 home victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
On Twitter, where the Turkish American journeyman center has posted viral videos slamming Chinese President Xi Jinping for several weeks, his account now reflects the legal name change from “Enes Kanter” to “Enes Kanter Freedom” that occurred Monday when he officially became a U.S. citizen.
“It’s official,” Freedom said in a Tuesday tweet that included a photograph of him in a “U.S. Citizen Est. 2021” T-shirt from the ceremony and an image of him in the #13 “Freedom” jersey.
China’s communist government ordered a media blackout of all Celtics games on Oct. 20 after Freedom wore game shoes critical of the regime and posted a video rant on Twitter clad in a “Free Tibet” shirt, referring to China’s persecution of Tibetan Buddhists who follow the exiled Dalai Lama.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China‘s Foreign Ministry, said at a news briefing on Oct. 21 that the player’s remarks “were not worth refuting.”
The NBA player then doubled down in an Oct. 22 video of himself in a “Freedom for Uyghur” T-shirt, referring to the majority-Muslim ethnic group of 1.8 million people who live in an autonomous region of northwest China.
Freedom also has tweeted images of red-and-white “Free China” game shoes that depict him holding the severed head of Winnie the Pooh like a basketball and also depict Pooh’s head atop two tanks bearing down on the NBA player in an homage to a widely seen act of defiance during the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Images of Pooh have been used widely to mock Mr. Xi.
His tweet of the images, banned in China, included the hashtags #FreedomShoes and #XinnieThePooh.
The shoes are one of several pairs with images attacking the Chinese government that Freedom has worn throughout the season.
Freedom’s videos referring to Mr. Xi as a “heartless dictator” and accusing the Chinese Communist Party of “genocide” as well as “forced labor” have garnered millions of views.
Although the Celtics organization has defended Freedom’s political activism, his comments have challenged the NBA’s close business relationship with China.
Freedom has spoken out against Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, and Nike for overlooking China’s human rights abuses.
After Celtics practice on Tuesday, ESPN reported that Freedom said he would welcome a sit-down conversation about China with James, the league’s biggest star.
“I don’t know if he’s educated enough, but I’m here to educate him and I’m here to help him, because it’s not about money. It’s about morals, principles and values,” Freedom said.
Born in Switzerland to Turkish parents, Freedom has a history of political activism, and was indicted in Turkey in 2018 on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization.
In 2019, he appeared with congressional Democrats to criticize President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to the Trump White House, calling the Turkish leader “the Hitler of our century.”