NBA’s Enes Kanter Debuts Anti-Communist Tiananmen Square Sneakers

Enes Kanter #13 of the Boston Celtics poses for a photo during Media Day at High Output Studios on September 27, 2021 in Canton, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of …
Omar Rawlings/Getty Images, Inserts: @EnesKanter/Twitter

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.

Chinese President Xi Jinping eats a Polish apples as he greets the arrival of the first China Railway Express train that rolled into the Polish capital from China ending a 13-day trip from Chengdu, capital of the central Sichuan province on June 20, 2016 in Warsaw. Chinese President Xi Jinping was in Warsaw to boost China's trade and investment with Poland, the European Union's largest eastern economy. / AFP / JANEK SKARZYNSKI (Photo credit should read JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Chinese President Xi Jinping eats a Polish apples as he greets the arrival of the first China Railway Express train that rolled into the Polish capital from China ending a 13-day trip from Chengdu, capital of the central Sichuan province on June 20, 2016 in Warsaw. (JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

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.”

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.

Detail of the shoes worn by Enes Kanter #13 of the Boston Celtics with the wording “Free Tibet” during the first half against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on October 20, 2021 in New York City. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

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.

 

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.”

The shoes of Enes Kanter #13 of the Boston Celtics before the Celtics home opener against the Toronto Raptors at TD Garden on October 22, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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.

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.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

.

Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.