TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Turkish NBA player Enes Kanter on Sunday (Oct. 24) wore a pair of shoes with the words "Free China" painted on the sides, the third such act of footwear defiance displayed by the athlete in a week.
On Wednesday (Oct. 20), Kanter, who plays for the Boston Celtics, suited up for an NBA game with a pair of basketball shoes that had the words "Free Tibet" on them. On Friday (Oct. 22), the former Turkish citizen was seen sporting a pair of sneakers with the words "Free Uyghur" in support of the oppressed Turkic minority in China's Xinjiang region.
In his third expression of dissent, Kanter wore the "Free China" shoes during a game on Sunday, during which he did not receive any playing time. There has been some speculation among pundits that Kanter's playing time has been reduced due to his choice of footwear.
However, the Boston Celtics' President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens expressed support for Kanter during his weekly appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub on Friday (Oct. 22), describing a conversation with the player on the matter as "real short and sweet." Stevens then emphasized that “we’re always going to support any of our players and their right to freedom of speech and expression. And I think in my experience with the Celtics and the NBA, that’s the way it’s been and that’s the way it’ll continue to be.”
These shoes were designed by Chinese dissident artist Badiucao (巴丢草), who currently lives in exile in Australia. In a tweet on Monday (Oct. 25), Badiucao said that his art for Kanter's "Freedom Shoes" is meant to represent the "real struggle and desperation" in the Tibetan and Uyghur communities.
That day, Badiucao and Kanter both released images of the artist's latest work, which is labeled "Free China" in both English and Chinese with a red brick background. On one side, "Tank Man" is seen holding a basketball while standing in front of tanks with giant Winnie the Pooh heads, while the other side shows Kanter tightly squeezing a severed Pooh head like a basketball.
In the caption above images of the shoes, Badiucao wrote, "One day the shameful wall in China will fall!" Kanter also posted an image of the shoes and called out Chinese Chairman Xi Jinping (習近平) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), vowing that he would "never apologize for speaking the truth" and that he could not be bought, scared, or silenced.
When author Chris Fenton that day described his work as "anti-China," Badiucao countered that his art is meant to be "anti-government" and stressed, "There is a huge difference." In response to criticism that the shoes are being peddled for profit, Badiucao said he could make more money making art that is not anti-CCP and that Kanter stands to lose millions in the China market for his political stance.
XI JINPING and the Chinese Communist Party— Enes Kanter (@EnesKanter) October 24, 2021
Someone has to teach you a lesson,
I will NEVER apologize for speaking the truth.
You can NOT buy me.
You can NOT scare me.
You can NOT silence me.
Bring it on!! #FreedomShoes#XinnieThePooh pic.twitter.com/JFGEgIaXlN