Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter Freedom looks toward the team's bench during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Boston. The Boston Celtics center changed his name from Enes Kanter to Enes Kanter Freedom in celebration of him officially becoming a United States citizen Monday. Credit: Charles Krupa / AP

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Enes Kanter Freedom might be the most interesting player in the NBA, and he just so happens to be on the hometown team around here, the Boston Celtics.

Before I explain why he is so interesting, let me begin by making an admission: I love sports. And I don’t discriminate in my sports fandom, I love them all. Baseball, football, ice hockey, golf, tennis, Olympic sports, you name it, I love it. With one exception: basketball.

It isn’t that I don’t actually like the game. Quite the contrary. I grew up in the 1990s captivated by the Chicago Bulls, and like the rest of kids my age, I watched every game that Michael Jordan played, and I desperately wanted to “be like Mike.”

But the game has lost me in the last decade or so.

Sports and entertainment are, for many of us, our escape from politics, and we don’t want to hear it. At least not on the field of play. Whether you are telling me to vote for a Democrat like Joe Biden, or you are a MAGA hat-wearing Trumpkin, save it for your personal time.

Basketball’s insistence on injecting politics into the game itself was key to losing me. You want to exercise your First Amendment right to “bring awareness” to an issue? Fine. You’re an American. But please, do it on your own time, not on the court or the field of play. The NBA as a league, the coaches and the players have taken their activism to such a point that I can’t watch a game without constantly feeling waterboarded by their unsolicited opinions.

But even worse is the horrifying opinions I had to be subjected to along the way. Set aside our domestic squabbles about things like the Black Lives Matter movement, the point at which the NBA lost me forever was the craven hypocrisy and unconscionable deference to China by the league and its players, including its biggest star, LeBron James.

More than a year ago, James sniped at Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey calling him “misinformed” and “not educated” after Morey had voiced support for Hong Kong protesters, who were desperately begging for the world to care that the Chinese government was in the midst of crushing their freedoms of speech and association, among other formerly guaranteed rights.

That was it. That was the moment I was out. I can’t stomach an American athlete doing the job of a Chinese communist propagandist, in service to a dictator for life, all because the NBA is afraid of losing the China market.

Which brings me to Enes Kanter Freedom.

Kanter has been making waves this year for many things, most involving his outspoken political statements. He has been speaking out about issues he cares about on Twitter, and even wore shoes attacking James over his aforementioned pathetic support of the regime in China. Of course, while I delighted in political advocacy I agree with being seen on an NBA court for once, I am no more interested in seeing this on the court as I am seeing anything else I don’t agree with.

But off the court? I have far less of a problem there, and Kanter has had a lot of very important things to say there, that people should be listening to.

You see, Kanter is not a native-born American citizen, but was born in Switzerland and raised in Turkey, before ultimately coming to the United States. He just recently became naturalized and explained why it was so important to him in a piece he wrote for The Atlantic, where he detailed the threats to him and his family from President Recep Erdoğan of Turkey, and the welcome (and love of freedom) he found in America.

He also recently spoke with The New Yorker,  explaining his perspective on his adopted home further. “Despite its many imperfections, America is still one of the greatest countries in the world. And many of my fellow-Americans don’t understand how bad it can get in other places, because of a lack of perspective. I think if you are lucky enough to be born in this country, which people are trying to join by, unfortunately, risking it all at the border, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. I think it is easy to get obsessed with America’s flaws, and even easier to forget its many achievements and the hope it provides to people everywhere.”

Quite right. Finally, political statements by an NBA player I can get behind. Just keep it off the court, Enes.


Matthew Gagnon, Opinion columnist

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist...