BOSTON — Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka said Friday night that he hasn’t talked to center Enes Kanter about the player’s criticism of the Chinese government that led to the team’s games being pulled off television there.
“We know it’s out there,” Udoka said before the team’s home opener against the Toronto Raptors. “He is very passionate about a lot of things and he has the freedom to say what he wants. That’s above my department.”
In a series of social media posts, Kanter proclaimed his support for Tibetan independence and called Chinese President Xi Jinping a “dictator.” Kanter also wore shoes with the phrase “Free Tibet” on them during the New York Knicks game on Wednesday.
“More than 150 Tibetan people have burned themselves alive!! – hoping that such an act would raise more awareness about Tibet,” he wrote on Twitter. “I stand with my Tibetan brothers and sisters, and I support their calls for Freedom.”
Heartless Dictator of China,
XI JINPING and the Communist Party of China.
I am calling you out in front of the whole world.
Close down the SLAVE labor camps and free the UYGHUR people!
— Enes Kanter (@EnesKanter) October 22, 2021
Chinese broadcaster Tencent did not show the Celtics’ opener against the Knicks on streaming services that typically air the games, an apparent response to Kanter’s statements.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Thursday that Kanter was “clout-chasing, trying to get attention with Tibet-related issues.”
“His wrong remarks are not worth refuting,” Wang said.
Neither the NBA nor the Celtics have commented.
A native of Turkey, Kanter has been an outspoken critic of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish government. Kanter has said his passport was revoked by his homeland in 2017.
It’s not the first time the league has been forced to navigate its relationship with the Chinese government – and the gigantic media market it controls. In October 2019, then-Houston general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of government protesters in Hong Kong, also leading to games being pulled from the air.
The NBA estimated that the strained relationship with the Chinese and lost broadcast rights cost the league about $400 million in revenue during the 2019-20 season alone.