Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter continued his campaign against the Chinese Communist Party on Sunday with the debut of sneakers featuring images inspired by the Tiananmen Square massacre and what appears to be an illustration of himself holding the severed head of Winnie the Pooh.
The Communist Party banned Winnie the Pooh from China in 2017 after anti-communist dissidents began using the cartoon bear to mock dictator Xi Jinping’s portly figure.
Other countries, including Western nations, have moved to silence or disappear images of Winnie the Pooh to protect Xi from having to see the bear in subsequent years.
Kanter launched a series of sneakers, worn on the court during National Basketball Association (NBA) games, featuring designs by the Chinese-Australian artist Badiucao, whose work focuses on criticism of authoritarian regimes and particularly the Chinese Communist Party.
The NBA is extremely popular in China, generating billions of dollars for the league. Statements against China by NBA figures have previously led to significant financial distress for the NBA – most prominently after then-Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey posted a message of support to anti-communist Hong Kong protesters in 2019, resulting in “hundreds of millions” of dollars in losses.
Morey posted only one message – “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong” – on his Twitter account, a platform Chinese citizens cannot access legally. Kanter, through his sneakers, made his message visible to Chinese citizens watching his games. Chinese streamer Tencent cancelled broadcasts of Celtics games last week after Kanter revealed his first anti-communist sneaker pair condemning repression in Tibet.
“Someone has to teach you a lesson,” Kanter wrote on social media on Sunday evening, debuting the Tiananmen Square shoes. “You can NOT buy me. You can NOT scare me. You can NOT silence me.”
XI JINPING and the Chinese Communist Party
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.
— Enes Kanter (@EnesKanter) October 24, 2021
The image of Kanter holding a dead Winnie the Pooh head appears to be a reworking of his Twitter profile photo, in which Kanter is holding a basketball. The tanks drawn with Winnie the Pooh heads are a reworking of the famous “tank man” photo showing a Tiananmen Square protester standing defiantly in front of a row of tanks in 1989.
The Tiananmen Square massacre resulted in Communist Party killing an estimated 10,000 peaceful protesters who had gathered in the nation’s capital that year, in part inspired by the ongoing collapse of the Soviet Union, to demand an end to communism and construction of a free society. For decades, the Chinese Communist Party refused to acknowledge that the massacre occurred, blocking searches for the incident on social media. Under Xi, Beijing has instead shifted to celebrating the killings and urging other countries to treat their political dissidents similarly.
The shoes Kanter revealed on Sunday are the third in a series that began last week with a design honoring the sacrifices of Tibetan anti-communists. The Chinese Communist Party has for decades colonized and subjugated Tibet, more recently escalating campaigns to eradicate Tibetan language, culture, and Tibetan Buddhism.
Tibetans are ethnically separate from the majority Han that government Beijing, who force Tibetan children to speak their Mandarin language and attend communist indoctrination classes. Human rights activists denounced the construction of mass internment camps in Tibet this year where Tibetans face extreme torture, including rape, and indoctrination.
Following the message in solidarity with the Tibetan people, Kanter posted a video in support of the Uyghur people of East Turkestan, a region Beijing colonized and labeled “Xinjiang.” East Turkestan is home to an estimated 1,200 concentration camps housing as many as 3 million Uyghurs and other Muslim people. Kanter wore shoes last week bearing the image of some of these concentration camp victims as seen in footage smuggled out of the region.
Kanter, himself a Turkish Muslim, condemned Muslim world leaders who maintained relations with China in the video – naming King Salman of Saudi Arabia among other leaders – decrying them for using Islam “for show” and not truly believing the faith.
To those of you who care about human dignity:
Please join me in spreading the word.
What is happening to the Uyghurs is one of the WORST human rights abuses in the world today.
— Enes Kanter (@EnesKanter) October 22, 2021
The Communist Party had blocked NBA games from televised broadcasts following the Morey incident, but currently allows Tencent to stream the games online. In response to the Tibet message, Tencent abruptly cut a livestream of Wednesday night’s Celtics game and canceled all scheduled broadcasts of games in which the Celtics are scheduled to participate. Chinese citizens also have no legal way to watch games featuring the Philadelphia 76ers, who hired Morey after his departure from Houston.
The NBA has had little to say about Kanter’s public activism. The Celtics responded to the messages by publicly voicing support for Kanter.
“My conversation with Enes was real short and sweet,” former Celtics coach and current president of basketball operations Brad Stevens said in an interview last week, “and that is we’re always going to support any of our players and their right to freedom of speech and expression. … that’s the way it’s been and that’s the way it’ll continue to be.”
Coach Ime Udoka, who has limited his use of Kanter in subsequent games, said in the aftermath of the Tibet video that he and the team had not discussed Kanter’s remarks.
Badiucao, the artist collaborating with Kanter, noted on Monday that pro-communist users on Twitter had begun to criticize both him and Kanter for allegedly profiting off the shoes (at press time, the shoes are not available for sale).
“Just ridiculous and ignorant,” he replied, noting that Kanter “risks millions … for challenging the entire Chinese NBA market.”
“For me I can easily sell art for good money if it’s not against ccp [the Communist Party of China],” he added.
A lot of tankies attack us that the shoes are for profit.
Just ridiculous and ignorant.
For Enes he risks millions $ contact for challenging the entire Chinese NBA market.
For me I can easily sell art for good money if it’s not against ccp.
So who is the capitalist lovers here? https://t.co/EvucpTl5VB
— 巴丢草 Badiucao💉💉 (@badiucao) October 25, 2021
Kanter had already jeopardized the NBA’s relationship with a much smaller market, his home nation of Turkey, with years of activism against the Islamist regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey broadcasters have largely avoided airing games when Kanter’s team was playing and the Erdogan regime itself has issued at least nine arrest warrants against the player on charges of “insulting the president,” a crime in Turkey.
Kanter also routinely faces death threats from Turkish nationalists, which NBA Commissioner Adam Silver vowed the league would take “very seriously” in 2019.