NBA’s Enes Kanter to ‘Cultish’ Chinese Communist Party: ‘Hong Kong Will Be FREE!”

Enes Kanter
Getty Images/Katelyn Mulcahy

Basketball player Enes Kanter of the Boston Celtics, an outspoken critic of the Chinese government for its oppression of the Uyghur Muslims, on Tuesday called Chinese leader Xi Jinping a “ruthless dictator,” referred to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as a cult, and declared that Hong Kong will someday be “free” despite China’s efforts to crush democracy on the island.

Kanter has slammed Xi as a “dictator” before, but his full-throated support for Hong Kong independence is a recent addition to his critique of Communist China. It is particularly relevant for a National Basketball Association (NBA) player, given the association’s response when then-Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey shared a message supportive of Hong Kong’s democracy movement on Twitter in 2019.

Fearful of Communist Party retaliation against its business interests, the NBA distanced itself from Morey and offered an obsequious apology to the Chinese government. Critics lambasted the NBA for cowardice, especially when they discovered the association’s statement was even more groveling when translated into Chinese.

When NBA player LeBron James came out in support of the league and criticized Morey, Kanter professed his astonishment at James’ apparent ignorance of authoritarian evil. “Freedom isn’t free,” Kanter reminded James in October 2019.

Morey resigned from the Houston Rockets a year after the China incident, prompting Chinese state media to gleefully speculate he “paid a price” for supporting democracy in Hong Kong. The Party’s happiness quickly faded when Morey signed a very lucrative five-year contract as president of basketball operations for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Kanter stepped up his battle against CCP tyranny last week by deploying one of the most powerful weapons in any professional athlete’s arsenal: shoes.

In a social media video on October 25, Kanter called on Nike to “stop the modern-day slavery, now!” – a reference to allegations of forced labor used by Chinese factories when producing Nike sneakers. Kanter questioned Nike’s assurances that it has taken steps to eliminate forced labor from its supply chain.

“Did you know that the entire apparel and footwear industry is tainted by Uyghur forced labor?” Kanter asked in the video. “Many well-known global brands are implicated, and yes, that includes one of the NBA’s biggest sponsors, Nike.”

Kanter played last Saturday’s game against the Washington Wizards in his own custom footwear after attending a rally on Capitol Hill with hundreds of Uyghur, Tibet, and Hong Kong freedom activists:

Kanter also has sneakers that call China out for the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, in which the turrets of the tanks confronted by the legendary “Tank Man” have been replaced by Winnie-the-Pooh heads. The Party banned Winnie-the-Pooh years ago because the portly Xi was mocked by comparing him to the cartoon bear.

In a salute to his fans for getting involved on Friday, Kanter included hashtags for not only #FreeTibet and #FreeUyghurs, but also #FreeHongKong and #StandWithTaiwan.

China responded to Kanter’s latest broadsides by blacking out streaming video of Boston Celtics games and blocking Internet searches for Kanter’s name. The NBA has been, to put it charitably, quietly supportive of Kanter for speaking his mind thus far.

As for Hong Kong, the pro-democracy movement has been hit hard by a draconian “national security law” imposed by Beijing in violation of its promises to respect the autonomy of the island city.

Trade unions and civil society groups have recently disbanded under pressure from the national security law,  including the group that sponsored Hong Kong’s massive Tiananmen Square vigil for decades. Pro-democracy newspapers have been driven out of business, journalists intimidated, and movies censored. Pro-democracy lawmakers have been purged from the legislature. Even international human rights organizations are pulling out of Hong Kong, fearing persecution by the CCP’s puppet government.

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