“NBA made me do this” — Kanter on speaking out against China

“NBA made me do this” — Kanter on speaking out against China

What prompted Enes Kanter to speak out against forced labor in China? According to the Celtics big man, he was encouraged by the NBA.

Kanter vs. Nike

In recent months, Kanter, known for his social activism on multiple fronts, took a stand against China’s “human rights violations” against the Muslim Uyghur population of the Xinjiang region. He shared a video calling out Nike’s owner Phil Knight for his silence on the matter.

In a follow-up tweet, Kanter asked Knight, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James to join him on a trip to China and see the situation with their own eyes. He even wore shoes calling out Nike, with phrases “Hypocrite Nike” and “Made with slave labor.”

Kanter’s efforts were a continuation of his campaign against China after he called for freedom Tibet, criticizing their leader Xi Jinping who Enes called a “brutal dictator.” China responded by censoring Celtics games after doing the same thing to the 76ers following Daryl Morey’s comments in 2019. Despite reports about the NBA disapproving of Morey’s tweet, unlike LeBron James, Adam Silver stood in his defense.

NBA backing Kanter’s efforts?

In his interview with CNN, Kanter said NBA’s social activism in the States, especially its support of the Black Lives Matter movement, prompted him to speak out against the Chinese government.

NBA made me do this. Because every time when one of the NBA teams or the commissioner comes out to speak, they say we are encouraging players to talk about whatever they want to talk about. We are giving freedom to our players to talk about all the injustices happening around the world, all the human rights abuses around the world. So, they gave me this right.

Enes Kanter, CNN

Kanter met privately with NBA commissioner Adam Silver who apparently supported his right to freedom of speech. However, the lack of the league’s public support makes the Celtics big man doubtful about it. “If they were really supporting me, they would have put something out there. They would have put out some kind of statement,” he said. “People think I do politics, I don’t do politics. I do human rights.”

There are so many athletes, so many actors, so many singers and so many people who have a platform that are speaking out about many of the issues out there in the world. But when it comes to China they are scared because they care too much about money, they care too much about business and they care too much about endorsement deals. To me, human rights, and saving people’s lives, comes first.

Enes Kanter, CNN

What’s next?

What’s next? Judging by past experiences, nothing. NBA’s loss of China revenue following Morey’s tweet was estimated at around $200 million — hence the silent treatment after Kanter’s comments.

Too much money is at stake for the league to address China issues. And some would say that’s fine — intervening with matters outside of the US isn’t the NBA’s obligation. But tackling internal issues and ignoring outside things for the sake of financial gains indicates hypocrisy.

Addressing political or social issues, especially as a sports organization, is in no way wrong. But people demand consistency. And this is the second time the NBA has failed to show it. This time the tangible consequences won’t be as bad as in 2019. But best believe another instance of the league’s hypocrisy, at least for the people who look at their passivity that way, won’t go unnoticed.