Basketball player Enes Kanter Freedom is retweeting conservatives on Twitter who say the NBA canceled him for criticizing Communist China.
The Houston Rockets acquired the veteran center Thursday in a trade with the Boston Celtics but promptly said they would waive him because they had acquired Kanter Freedom for salary-matching reasons and to help the Celtics ease a team payroll burden.
“Former Kentucky Wildcat @EnesFreedom is a champion for human rights & freedom,” Rep. Andy Barr, Kentucky Republican, wrote in a Twitter post that Kanter Freedom retweeted Monday morning. “He is still at the top of his game. Now, the @NBA is disgracefully punishing him for his criticism of the brutality of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Kanter Freedom has not commented directly on those claims over the past few days, but it would be unusual behavior for a person to retweet posts about himself with which he didn’t agree.
The swell of conservative support underlines the fact that the Celtics traded him three days after Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, announced in a tweet that the backup center would be speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida later this month.
The NBA trade deadline for the season fell Thursday.
“The NBA celebrated activism for social justice but showed Enes the door,” Rep. Mike Waltz, Florida Republican, wrote in a post that Kanter Freedom retweeted Sunday.
The big man retweeted several other congressional Republicans on Sunday.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, said in one post: “The NBA has made a calculated choice to kowtow to the [Chinese Communist Party] and turn a blind eye to their genocide and oppression by firing @EnesFreedom. I stand with Enes, who has bravely defended what’s right no matter what.”
And Sen. Rick Scott, Florida Republican, wrote that Kanter Freedom “is as fierce a fighter for freedom & human rights as he is talented on the basketball court. The @NBA’s efforts to push Enes out are just the latest disgusting example of its cowardly appeasement toward Communist China.”
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt added: “When @HouseGOP regain majority, the hearings into NBA’s dependence upon and fear of CCP are going to be something.”
On Wednesday, the day before the Celtics traded him to the Rockets, Kanter Freedom told Margeret Hoover in an interview on PBS’s “Firing Line” that NBA teams would “do everything they can” not to re-sign him.
“So, recently, whenever I have a conversation with someone from the NBA or one of my ex-teammates, they’re like, ‘Listen, this is your farewell tour. Have fun with it, enjoy it, I hope you win a championship because I don’t think you’re going to sign another contract after this year,’” Kanter Freedom said in the interview.
In a statement emailed to The Washington Times, the NBA denied orchestrating his waiver.
“We continue to support Enes Kanter Freedom expressing his views on matters that are important to him as we do for all members of the NBA family,” the statement reads. “The NBA league office had no involvement in these team roster decisions involving Mr. Freedom.”
The Houston Rockets did not respond to a request for comment.
But the Global Times, an English-language daily controlled by the Chinese Communist Party and designated a foreign agent by the U.S. Department of State, said in an article Friday that Kanter Freedom was a “below-average player” who got what he deserved for not focusing on basketball.
“After senior ESPN NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski, also widely known as Woj, announced the trade through a Twitter post, netizens swarmed to the platform, mocking the player who has been ignorant and arrogant on China‘s core interests and internal affairs such as those involving Xinjiang, Xizang, and Taiwan,” Wang Qui wrote in the article.
The Chinese newspaper added, quoting an anonymous Beijing-based sports commentator: “He didn’t focus on basketball as a player and lost his job… And Chinese fans can expect to watch Boston’s games soon.”
In October, China banned its NBA affiliates from airing any Boston Celtics games this season after Kanter Freedom posted viral social media videos criticizing Xi Jinping as a “heartless dictator” and wearing game shoes with banned political images referring to forced labor camps in Tibet and the Uyghur region.
A spokesman for China’s communist government said at the time that his remarks were “not worth refuting.”
The Global Times reported that the media blackout remained in place on Friday.
Kanter Freedom, who has played for five NBA teams since he joined the league in 2011, legally changed his last name to “Freedom” upon becoming a U.S. citizen in November — a move that drew cheers from Celtics fans when he checked into a game for the first time wearing his new “Freedom” jersey.
The big man has given several high-profile interviews over the last few months, criticizing the NBA’s close business ties to China and league star LeBron James for profiting from Nike endorsements that depend on Chinese labor.
A few months ago, he alleged that two NBA officials asked him before a game to not wear shoes criticizing China’s Communist government, a claim the league later denied.
Kanter Freedom, born in Switzerland to Turkish parents, has a history of social activism and had his Turkish citizenship revoked for speaking out against the government there.
Also Monday, he retweeted messages of support from the Simon Wiesenthal Center and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, current chairman of the Human Rights Foundation.
“Showing the limits, or borders, of the NBA’s idea of “social justice.” They are quick to kneel in worship of a mountain of Chinese cash and punish @EnesFreedom for speaking out against the CCP’s genocide and repression,” Kasparov wrote in his tweet.
• Sean Salai can be reached at email@example.com.
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