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Enes Kanter Freedom and the Consequences of Speaking Out


Freedom, who is Muslim but knew little about the Uyghurs, threw himself into the cause. Tahir Imin, a Uyghur activist in Washington who met Freedom at a Capitol Hill rally, said that Freedom “boosted the morale of Uyghur activism.”

That was just over a week after Freedom opened the N.B.A. season with the Boston Celtics, in October. Ahead of their first game, Freedom posted a video on Twitter with a caption referring to China’s leader, Xi Jinping, as a “brutal dictator.” During the game, he wore shoes designed by the Chinese dissident artist Badiucao that said “Free Tibet,” referring to the region Chinese troops invaded and seized in 1951.

The N.B.A.’s response, Freedom said, was to try to silence him. In several media appearances after that game, he said two league officials demanded that he take off the shoes, and he refused. At the Olive Tree, he changed the story, saying the officials were with the Celtics.

He also said the N.B.A. players’ union separately tried to get him to stop wearing the shoes.

“Instead of advocating on my behalf, I have encountered the union telling me I need to shut up and stop talking about the human rights violations in China,” Freedom said to The New York Times.

Freedom’s story is difficult to corroborate because he would not disclose the names of his antagonists. The union would not comment on the specifics, but said in a statement that it supported Freedom and other players’ speaking out on important issues.

Brad Stevens, the president of basketball operations for the Celtics, said team staff members merely asked whether the shoes were a violation of the league dress code.

“Even the next day, I just walked up to him and said, ‘Hey, you always have our support to freely express yourself and say what you want,’” Stevens said. Freedom confirmed this exchange.



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