How new Celtics big man Enes Kanter became an enemy of Turkey's dictator and international fugitive

Alex Reimer
July 02, 2019 - 3:04 pm

The Celtics’ newest addition, Enes Kanter, is more than a veteran big man who can finish around the rim. He’s also one of the NBA’s foremost social activists, becoming an enemy of his native Turkey in the process.

Kanter, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, regularly denounces the authoritarian regime of Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan. The center is a vocal supporter of Turkish dissident Fethullah Gulen, who’s one of the country’s most popular political leaders and hiding out in Pennsylvania. The Erdogan regime, which has largely obliterated the country’s independent press and judicial system, accuses Gulen of orchestrating an unsuccessful coup in 2016. Gulen denies the charges.

In 2017, Kanter was detained in a Romanian airport amidst a charity tour. His Turkish passport was cancelled, meaning he was in danger of being deported back to his homeland, where he could face arrest. Kanter survived the episode and eventually found himself on a flight back to London, after the NBA and U.S. State Department had intervened on his behalf. 

Kanter’s troubles have only increased over the last two years. The Turkish government has now issued a warrant for his arrest and submitted an extradition request. The Erdogan regime says the NBA veteran is part of a terrorist organization, without citing evidence. As a result, Kanter does not travel outside of the U.S., foregoing a trip to London with the Blazers last season. 

“Right now, besides America, I don't really feel safe anywhere else in the world,” he said at the time, per CNN.

In an odd twist, former NBA Turkish star Hedo Turkoglu, who now serves as an advisor to Erdogan, has accused his fellow countryman of engaging in a “smear campaign” against the strong man. 

Though President Trump has embraced Erdogan –– further displaying his affection for dictators –– Kanter does not appear to be at risk for deportation. Per the countries’ extradition agreement, a Turkish citizen can only be transported back if evidence shows he would be subject to prosecution under the U.S. legal system as well. 

Kanter is due to become a U.S. citizen in two years. 

Related: Enes Kanter agrees to deal with Celtics