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Turkish NBA player and human rights activist Enes Kanter changes last name to 'Freedom' as he takes US citizenship oath: 'That's the one thing, my whole life, I try to fight for'

  Freedom is coming to the NBA and the United States. Turkish human rights activist and Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter is taking his US c...

 Freedom is coming to the NBA and the United States.

Turkish human rights activist and Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter is taking his US citizenship oath on Monday and will mark the occasion by legally changing his name to 'Enes Kanter Freedom,' he told CNN.

He recently made headlines by attacking Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James for his business ties to Nike and, by extension, China — a country accused of targeting its minority Uighur population and forcing citizens into slave labor camps.

Turkish human rights activist and Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter is taking his US citizenship oath on Monday and will mark the occasion by legally changing his name to 'Enes Kanter Freedom,' he told CNN

Turkish human rights activist and Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter is taking his US citizenship oath on Monday and will mark the occasion by legally changing his name to 'Enes Kanter Freedom,' he told CNN

Enes Kanter #13 of the Boston Celtics during the American national anthem prior to the first half of their NBA game against the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena on Sunday

Enes Kanter #13 of the Boston Celtics during the American national anthem prior to the first half of their NBA game against the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena on Sunday

In Turkey, Kanter has been considered an enemy of the state since 2017, when he criticized president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as the 'Hitler of our century.' In response, the country revoked his passport, imprisoned his father on terrorism charges for two years, and, through Interpol, attempted to arrange for the younger Kanter's arrest.

'That's the one thing, my whole life, I try to fight for,' Kanter told CNN. 'When I came to America, to me, it was so amazing because, here, there is freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of press, which I didn't have any of those with Turkey.

'And freedom is the greatest thing a human being can have. So that's why I wanted to make that word a part of me and carry it wherever I go.'


Kanter said 'Freedom' will be on the back of his jersey beginning with Tuesday's game against the Philadelphia 76ers. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound center said his teammates have already begun calling him 'Mr. Freedom.'

'I cannot thank them enough,' he said of his teammates. 'Their support gave me so much hope and motivation to fight and fight for what's right.'

Kanter requested red and blue cupcakes for a team celebration on Monday.

He's not the first NBA player to adopt a new, high-minded monicker.

In 2011, then-Lakers star Ron Artest famously changed his name to Metta World Peace and later to Metta Sandiford-Artest in 2020.

Prior to that, journeyman NBA guard Lloyd Bernard Free changed his name to World B. Free in 1981 after carrying that nickname for several years.

Journeyman NBA guard Lloyd Bernard Free changed his name to World B. Free in 1981 after carrying that nickname for several years
In 2011, then-Lakers star Ron Artest famously changed his name to Metta World Peace and later to Metta Sandiford-Artest in 2020

In 2011, then-Lakers star Ron Artest famously changed his name to Metta World Peace (right) and later to Metta Sandiford-Artest in 2020. Prior to that, journeyman NBA guard Lloyd Bernard Free changed his name to World B. Free (left) in 1981

Kanter has continued his attacks on China and its American business partners, such as James, Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan and Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai.

'Money over Morals for the ''King,''' Kanter tweeted on November 18, referencing James's nickname. 'Sad & disgusting how these athletes pretend they care about social justice.

'They really do ''shut up & dribble'' when Big Boss [Chinese flag emoji] says so,' Kanter continued. 'Did you educate yourself about the slave labor that made your shoes or is that not part of your research?'

The Lakers star previously said in 2019 that he needed to do more research before commenting on alleged human rights violations in China, where Nike has done business for decades.

He did not address the issues in China in response to Kanter's tweet, but he did dismiss the Celtics center.

'I don't really give too many people my energy,' James said after losing to Kanter's Celtics in Boston on November 19. 'And he's definitely not someone I will give my energy to. Trying to use my name to create an opportunity for himself.

'Definitely won't comment too much on that, if any, and that will be where I lay at that.'

James felt Kanter should have approached him privately before ripping him on social media.

'He's always kind of had a word or two to say in my direction, and as men, really, if you had an issue with somebody you'd really come up to them,' James said. 'And he had his opportunity tonight. I saw him in the hallway and he walked right by me.'

Kanter (center) has continued his attacks on China and its American business partners, such as LeBron James (left), Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan and Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai. 'Money over Morals for the ''King,''' Kanter tweeted on November 18, referencing James's nickname. 'Sad & disgusting how these athletes pretend they care about social justice.

Kanter (center) has continued his attacks on China and its American business partners, such as LeBron James (left), Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan and Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai. 'Money over Morals for the ''King,''' Kanter tweeted on November 18, referencing James's nickname. 'Sad & disgusting how these athletes pretend they care about social justice.

Kanter's 'shut up & dribble' comment refers to a documentary series produced by James about athletes' role in national politics. The Showtime series' name was derived from Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who said James should 'shut up and dribble' rather than share opinions on issues of race and politics. In addition to his message for James, Kanter's tweet also included photos of some new sneakers that he's expected to wear at upcoming games. One of the custom-made shoes designed by anti-Beijing artist Baidiucao reads 'Hey [King], still researching and getting educated?'

Kanter's 'shut up & dribble' comment refers to a documentary series produced by James about athletes' role in national politics. The Showtime series' name was derived from Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who said James should 'shut up and dribble' rather than share opinions on issues of race and politics. In addition to his message for James, Kanter's tweet also included photos of some new sneakers that he's expected to wear at upcoming games. One of the custom-made shoes designed by anti-Beijing artist Baidiucao reads 'Hey [King], still researching and getting educated?'

NBA star Enes Kanter takes to social media to support free Tibet
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Michael Jordan helped turned Nike into an iconic brand after signing with the unheralded sneaker manufacturer in 1984
ike was co-founded by Phil Knight (pictured) in 1964

Michael Jordan (left) helped turned Nike into an iconic brand after signing with the unheralded sneaker manufacturer in 1984. Nike was co-founded by Phil Knight (right) in 1964

Kanter's 'shut up & dribble' comment in his November 18 tweet referred to a documentary series produced by James about athletes' role in national politics. The Showtime series' name was derived from Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who said James should 'shut up and dribble' rather than share opinions on issues of race and politics.

Kanter has also worn sneakers designed by anti-Beijing artist Baidiucao criticizing China, James, Nike and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

James reportedly has a lifetime contact with Nike worth more than $1 billion, his business partner Maverick Carter told GQ in 2016.

Kanter has even offered to tour the country's 'slave labor camps' with James, Michael Jordan, and Nike co-founder Phil Knight.

'To the owner of @Nike, Phil Knight,' Kanter tweeted last month. 'How about I book plane tickets for us and let's fly to China together. We can try to visit these SLAVE labor camps and you can see it with your own eyes.'

Using their twitter handles, Kanter added that James and Jordan — two of Nike's most recognized spokespeople — are 'welcome to come too.'

Kanter ended the post with the hashtag: #EndUyghurForcedLabor.

Kanter, an outspoken human rights advocate for several years, is now targeting China about its occupation of Tibet and its interment of the country's Uighur population

Kanter, an outspoken human rights advocate for several years, is now targeting China about its occupation of Tibet and its interment of the country's Uighur population 

The US State Department estimates that, since 2017, as many as two million Uighurs and other ethnic minorities have been detained in internment camps in China. The country has denied human rights violations and claims the camps are intended to prevent terrorism among the Uighurs, who are predominantly muslim.

Nike, the NBA's official apparel provider, is among several western brands that have drawn criticism from Beijing for expressing concerns about reports of forced labor in cotton production in the northwest province of Xinjiang.

In a previous statement, the company admitted that it does not handle the sourcing of its cotton in the county 'directly.'

'While Nike does not directly source cotton, or other raw materials, traceability at the raw materials level is an area of ongoing focus,' read the Nike statement. 'We are working closely with our suppliers, industry associations, brands and other stakeholders to pilot traceability approaches and map material sources so we can have confidence the materials in our products are responsibly produced.'

There have been several similar posts by Kanter targeting Chinese president Xi Jinping.


Celtics coach Ime Udoka was asked about Kanter's statements on China last month, but said he has not addressed them with the team. Regardless, Udoka said Kanter is free to express himself.

'We know it's out there,' Udoka said before Boston's home opener in October. 'He is very passionate about a lot of things and he has the freedom to say what he wants. That's above my department.'

Celtics games are already being blacked out in the country after Kanter slammed Xi as a 'brutal dictator' in a previous social media video about China's treatment of Tibet. Furthermore, Kanter's name appeared to be blocked on the popular Weibo messaging platform in the communist nation after his initial tweet on the subject last month.

Kanter has also expressed himself through fashion, wearing custom-made sneakers designed by anti-Beijing artist Baidiucao. The various shoes have included slogans such as 'Free Tibet,' 'Free China,' 'Hypocrite Nike,' and 'Slave Labor.' One pair even depicted Xi as Winnie the Pooh — a comparison that bloggers have used to disparage the Chinese President

Kanter has also expressed himself through fashion, wearing custom-made sneakers designed by anti-Beijing artist Baidiucao. The various shoes have included slogans such as 'Free Tibet,' 'Free China,' 'Hypocrite Nike,' and 'Slave Labor.' One pair even depicted Xi as Winnie the Pooh — a comparison that bloggers have used to disparage the Chinese President

'I'm here to add my voice and speak out about what is happening in Tibet,' Kanter said in the video he posted on Twitter in October. 'Under the Chinese government's brutal rule, Tibetan people's basic rights and freedoms are non-existent.

'They are not allowed to study and learn their language and culture freely. They are not allowed to travel freely. They are not allowed to access information freely. The Tibetan people are not even allowed to worship freely.'

Kanter added another video in October, calling out Nike specifically.

'Nike remains vocal about injustice here in America, but when it comes to China, Nike remains silent,' Kanter said.

'You do not address police brutality in China, you do not speak about discrimination against the LGBTQ community, you do not say a word about the oppression of minorities in China, you are scared to speak up.'

Kanter has also expressed himself through fashion, wearing custom-made sneakers designed by artist Baidiucao, a popular critic of Beijing. The various shoes have included slogans such as 'Free Tibet,' 'Free China,' 'Hypocrite Nike,' and 'Slave Labor.'

One pair even depicted Xi as Winnie the Pooh — a comparison that bloggers have used to disparage the Chinese President.

Kanter's remarks, and the backlash from China, come two years after a similar PR crisis unfolded for the NBA.

Hundreds of basketball fans gather in Wan Chai Southorn Playground to show support of the Houston Rockets general manager, Daryl Morey and league's commissioner, Adam Silver on October 15, 2019 in Hong Kong, China

Hundreds of basketball fans gather in Wan Chai Southorn Playground to show support of the Houston Rockets general manager, Daryl Morey and league's commissioner, Adam Silver on October 15, 2019 in Hong Kong, China

Kanter's remarks, and the backlash, come two years after then-Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's comments in support of the democracy movement in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong prompted state broadcaster CCTV to cease broadcasting NBA games and e-commerce vendors to remove listings for Rockets merchandise

Kanter's remarks, and the backlash, come two years after then-Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's comments in support of the democracy movement in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong prompted state broadcaster CCTV to cease broadcasting NBA games and e-commerce vendors to remove listings for Rockets merchandise

Morey, who is now the president of the 76ers, was never punished by the NBA for his tweet

Morey, who is now the president of the 76ers, was never punished by the NBA for his tweet 

In October of 2019, then-Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's comments in support of the democracy movement in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong prompted state broadcaster CCTV to cease broadcasting NBA games and e-commerce vendors to remove listings for Rockets merchandise.

State media, including CCTV, criticized Morey for his tweet, which was labelled an example of Western interference in a bid to foment unrest and stir up anti-China sentiment, while Chinese partners severed or suspended ties with the NBA.

Anti-NBA protests followed in both mainland China, where fans took aim at James, and among Hong Kong protesters.

In the US, Chinese-American fans began wearing pro-Hong Kong apparel to preseason games while protesting the regime in Beijing. Similarly, the anti-Beijing protestors in Hong Kong also took aim at James, using his image in memes and burning his jersey.

In the end, the NBA lost about $400 million in Chinese business, according to league commissioner Adam Silver, and faced criticism in the US for its perceived kowtowing to the communist regime.

Morey was never punished by the NBA.

Mesut Ozul (pictred), who now plays for Fenerbahce, was omitted from a video game in China after criticizing the country's treatment of the Uighurs in the western part of the country

Mesut Ozul (pictred), who now plays for Fenerbahce, was omitted from a video game in China after criticizing the country's treatment of the Uighurs in the western part of the country 

China's concern over criticism from athletes isn't limited to just basketball players.

In 2019, soccer star Mesut Ozil as removed from Konami's eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) 2020 computer game in China over his comments about the country's treatment of its Uighur Muslims.

Ozil, a German Muslim of Turkish origin playing for Arsenal at the time, posted messages of social media at the time calling minority Uighurs 'warriors who resist persecution' and criticized both China's crackdown and the silence of Muslims in response.

China's foreign ministry said Ozil was 'deceived by fake news' as social media platforms in the country such as Weibo were flooded with angry messages.

Arsenal was quick to distance itself from Ozil's comments, saying the club 'always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics'.

Ozil, who now plays in Turkey, did get support from former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who defended his right to express his opinion. 

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