A Critic Of Turkey, The Knicks' Enes Kanter Speaks Out About His Fears For His Life The NBA star says he fears that if he travels to London for an upcoming game against the Washington Wizards, he might be killed for speaking out against Turkey's president.

A Critic Of Turkey, The Knicks' Enes Kanter Speaks Out About His Fears For His Life

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/684607600/684748522" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Next week, the NBA is putting on its big London game. The New York Knicks take on the Washington Wizards. But Enes Kanter of the Knicks won't be there. Mr. Kanter is Turkish and an outspoken critic of Turkish President Erdogan. He was playing basketball for the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2017 when he was detained at a Romanian airport when Turkey revoked his passport. Enes Kanter joins us now from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

ENES KANTER: Thank you, guys, for inviting me.

SIMON: And why did you decide not to go to London?

KANTER: I really didn't feel safe because the Turkish government is very famous for hunting down those who oppose Erdogan. So, I mean, I just didn't want to really risk my life by going to Europe. But, you know, I talked to my team. I told them all, like, how many times I want to come because I want to be with you guys there, and I want to get a win with you guys. And then, later on, they came back with the news and said, you know what? I think the best decision is if you don't come. Let's just not risk it for one game.

SIMON: Do you feel safe in New York and elsewhere in the U.S.?

KANTER: I have been getting last two, three days hundreds death threats, but I think I feel safe in America. But anywhere else in the world, I wouldn't really feel safe.

SIMON: Did you say you've gotten hundreds of death threats?

KANTER: Yes, I have been getting them since 2016. But, especially last two, three days, I have been getting lots of death threats.

SIMON: And we'll note that your father, Mehmet Kanter...


SIMON: ...Has been indicted in Turkey. He's accused of belonging to a terrorist organization. He is a follower of a cleric, who is in the United States and accused of plotting a coup against the Erdogan government. Does your father say he's innocent?

KANTER: Well, I'll tell you this first. I have no contact with my family right now, and I just don't want them to get in trouble. And if they would see any little text - say, hi, Mom. How you guys doing? Hi, Dad. And they will be all in jail. They actually took my dad in jail for seven days. And we put so much pressure from here in America to Turkey, and they had to let him go.

SIMON: As I don't have to tell you, a former NBA star, also from Turkey, Hedo Turkoglu, is now chief and adviser to President Erdogan. And he's been critical of you.


SIMON: Do you have anything to say about that?

KANTER: I was really good friends with him. I actually play in same team 2011. We were teammates in the Turkish national team. And then, after that, I think till 2013, '14, we played against each other because he was playing the NBA. And then, after that, he retired. And then, he started working with the Turkish government. And it's just very sad because he's actually a very good guy. But he picked a side, and he's in a tough situation.

SIMON: I have to ask, Mr. Kanter, have you received any pressure or advice from someone - I don't know - a sports agent, commercial agent, who says to you don't talk about politics? You're not going to be able to sell basketball shoes in Turkey. This makes you controversial. Just be quiet about what your feelings are.

KANTER: I understand. When you talk about this kind of issues, you are not going to get big contracts. But you know what? I look at it - in the end, it's worth it because I'm an NBA player, and I have a big platform. So I'm trying to use this platform to be voice of all those innocent people who don't have a voice. And people know my story because I play in the NBA. But there are thousands and thousands stories out there waiting to be heard way worse than mine. So I was like, you know what? I understand, you know? It's tough. My family's still back in there, and they're getting lots of threats, too. But I have to do this for all those innocent people.

SIMON: Enes Kanter of the New York Knicks, thanks very much. Good luck to you both on the court and off, sir.

KANTER: Thank you, guys, appreciate it.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.