LOS ANGELES — In a little over a week, the Knicks will hop aboard a flight to England for the NBA’s annual London Game, a regular season contest this year between New York and Washington.
Well, all the Knicks except Enes Kanter will board that flight.
After the Knicks win over the Lakers Friday night, Kanter said he would not take the London trip. Kanter is a Turkish national and the Turkish government has issued an arrest warrant for Kanter because he is an outspoken opponent of Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (an authoritarian ruler with almost dictatorial powers). Because of the risk, he will stay in New York that week, and in classic Kanter fashion he did not hold his frustrations back.
“Sadly, I’m not going because of that freaking lunatic, the Turkish president,” Kanter said. “There’s a chance that I can get killed out there. So that’s why I talked to the front office, I’m not going. So I’m just going to stay here, just practice here. It’s pretty sad that just all this stuff affects my career and basketball, because I want to be out there helping my team win. But just because of that one lunatic guy, one maniac or dictator, I can’t even go out there and just do my job.”
Does he really fear for his life?
“Oh, yeah, easy. they’ve got a lot of spies there. I can get killed very easy,” Kanter said.
Not long after this, Knicks officials tried to put a better spin on this saying it was a “visa issue.”
Judge for yourself, here is what Kanter himself Tweeted, and his full comments.
With the arrest warrant, Turkish prosecutors requested a four-year jail term for Kanter, and there were plans to try him in absentia.
Two summers ago the Turkish government revoked Kanter’s passport while he was abroad, forcing American diplomats (with some help from the NBA) to step in and prevent him from being sent back to his native country and arrested.
Kanter’s father has had to publicly denounce his son and was still arrested on “politically motivated” charges.
Kanter is a follower of the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. Turkish president Erdogan — whose government is known for human rights abuses — blames Gulen for a failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. Erdogan used that as an excuse for a crackdown and consolidation of his power.
It could be many years before Kanter gets to return to his homeland, even to visit. For now, he can’t even make the trip to London.