TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Outspoken Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter wore a pair of sneakers emblazoned with the words “Free Tibet” to an NBA game on Wednesday night (Oct. 20), leading Chinese video-streaming platform Tencent to cut its broadcast, according to reports.
Kanter, who wore the shoes to a game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, tweeted a message to Chinese leader Xi Jinping (習近平) before the game. “Dear Brutal Dictator XI JINPING and the Chinese Government,” he wrote. “Tibet belongs to the Tibetan people.”
“The Tibetan people’s basic rights and freedoms are non-existent,” Kanter said, in an accompanying video, while wearing a shirt with a picture of the Dalai Lama. “They’re not allowed to study and learn their own language and culture freely... the Tibetan people are not even allowed to worship freely.”
“I am here to add my voice and speak out against what is happening in Tibet under the Chinese Government’s brutal rule,” he added. Kanter’s activism reportedly sparked a nationalist backlash on Chinese social media.
The shoes were designed by celebrated Chinese-Australian political cartoonist and dissident Badiucao (巴丢草), who was born in Shanghai but now lives in exile. “Enes is a real giant both for the basketball field & human rights filed!” the cartoonist wrote on Twitter.
Badiucao also remarked that Kanter had not been given any playing time Wednesday night, with the implication being it may have been because of the message on his shoes. The NBA allows players some latitude in their choice of footwear, and players have displayed political messages in the past on warm-up outfits, particularly in relation to U.S. political movements for racial justice.
The NBA has had a rocky relationship with China since 2019, when the Houston Rockets then General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protests. Although Morey quickly deleted his tweet, it was too late to stop the nationalist firestorm on the Chinese internet, and the country’s state-run television broadcasters have for the most part kept the league off the air since.
Kanter, who is originally from Turkey, is a leading critic of Turkish President Recep Erdogan and has spoken out on a wide variety of human rights issues. The Turkish leader has consistently sought the basketball player’s extradition on bogus charges and even had agents pursue him in other countries, according to Kanter.