NBA’s Enes Kanter Faces Backlash From China After Slamming “Brutal Dictator” Xi Jinping Over Tibet Abuses

Chinese video-streaming giant Tencent cut the broadcast of Wednesday’s game between Kanter's Celtics and the Knicks

Enes Kanter of the Boston Celtics during a preseason game against the Miami Heat
Enes Kanter of the Boston Celtics during a preseason game against the Miami Heat.
Michael Reaves/Getty

After previously getting his NBA games blacked out in Turkey over his criticism of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Enes Kanter is banned in another country for calling another world leader a “brutal dictator.”

Now a member of the Boston Celtics, the Turkish basketball player called on President Xi Jinping of China to “free Tibet” in a video tweet on Wednesday night. He also donned sneakers supporting the Tibetan people for his game against the New York Knicks. ““I’m here to add my voice and speak out about what is happening in Tibet. Under the Chinese government’s brutal rule, Tibetan people’s basic rights and freedoms are nonexistent,” he said. “Brutal dictator of China, Xi Jinping, I have a message for you and your henchmen. Free Tibet, free Tibet, free Tibet.” 

The game, which was nationally televised in the U.S. on ESPN, was pulled off the air by Chinese video-streaming giant Tencent before its conclusion, per The Washington Post. (In a twist, Kanter never even got off the bench.)

Following Kanter’s social media messages, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said at a briefing that the 29-year-old’s “falsehoods are not worth refuting” and that China would “never accept those attacks and smears against Tibet’s development and progress.” Searches for Kanter on China’s Twitter-like Weibo were subsequently blocked, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Thanks to Kanter’s posts, a Celtics China fan account on Weibo with more than 600,000 followers posted that it was suspending updates on the Celtics. “From now on, the homepage will no longer report any information about the Boston Celtics, and our Weibo will stop updating!” read the post from the account, Celtics Weibo Express. “Resolutely resist any behavior that undermines national harmony and the dignity of the motherland!”

The NBA has had its issues with China in the past and continues to deal with the fallout from former Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey voicing his support on Twitter for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong in 2019. “Fight for Freedom,” he wrote. “Stand with Hong Kong.”

The tweet led to the NBA being pulled off the airwaves in China which cost the league millions in revenue, LeBron James criticizing the pro-Hong Kong tweet and protests about the league not doing its part to support Hong Kong. It also left Morey, who is now the Philadelphia 76ers’ president of basketball operations, fearing for the safety of his wife and two children as well as himself.

It’s been about two years since Morey’s tweet and state broadcaster CCTV still hasn’t resumed regular streaming of NBA games in China. Now, thanks to Kanter, Tencent, the streaming partner of the NBA, may do something similar.

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