For Enes Kanter Freedom, it’s been an eventful week and one year in the making.
The Boston Celtics center and Turkey native fulfilled an off-the-court goal Monday when he became a citizen of the United States and legally changed his name at an oath ceremony in a Boston courthouse.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment since the day I stepped in America,” said Freedom following Celtics practice on Tuesday. “Definitely one of the most unforgettable — maybe the most unforgettable moment that I had in my life.”
The 29-year-old Freedom has been outspoken of Turkey over the years, routinely criticizing the Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. According to Freedom, the Turkish government put his name on an Interpol list and revoked his passport in 2017. Freedom called the last six years “very rough” with Turkey condemning his actions and him unable to return to his homeland.
Freedom’s work in social activism was the impetus for him wanting to change his name as he continues to be an advocate for human rights.
“I wanted to make that word a part of me because that was the word that I fought for my whole life,” Freedom said. “That was the word I tried to stand up for my whole life. To me it was really important.”
This season, Freedom has been vocal when it comes to China and its handling of human rights issues, leading to China banning the broadcast of Celtics games in the country. Freedom also believes there should be a boycott of the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.
Freedom has used social media as an avenue to get his message across, but also has used his basketball sneakers as a tool for his criticisms. Freedom put on “Free Tibet” shoes in Boston’s season-opener to promote Tibetan independence from China.
Freedom later told CNN the NBA asked him not to wear the sneakers. Freedom added he had a conversation with NBA commissioner Adam Silver over his shoes and Freedom said Silver told him he wasn’t breaking any rules.
Freedom also wore “Free Uyghur” on his shoes for a game in response to the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghur people.
“The reason I wanted to do the shoes obviously (was to) inspire the young generation,” Freedom said. “When I was a kid when I was watching the NBA, the first thing I was looking at was which shoes my favorite player was wearing.”
With Freedom’s criticism of China, he also has been critical of star LeBron James, who signed a lifetime contract with Nike in 2016. Nike has been accused of using forced labor to manufacture its shoes in Asian countries.
Freedom called out James recently, tweeting, “Money over Morals for the ‘King’” and “They really do ‘shut up and dribble’ when Big Boss says so.”
When Boston hosted the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 19, James said after the game he walked past Freedom and that Freedom did not speak to him. Freedom said he was taking a picture with a young fan when James walked by him.
With the Celtics set to visit the Lakers next Tuesday, Freedom said he is open to having a conversation with James, but added “I’m sure it’s going to be a very uncomfortable conversation for him.”
“My first thing that people need to understand (is) the players need to do their research and they have to educate themselves before they put their signature on the paper and sign this like lifetime deals and stuff,” Freedom said. “Everybody knows how I feel about some of the sponsors that we have. Like, Nike, to me, the biggest hypocrite company out there. They stand for Black Lives Matter in America, amazing, they stand with Latino community, no Asian hate, they stand with LBGQ community, but when it comes to some of the countries out there, like China, they remain silent.
“Obviously they are using these players to become the face (of Nike) like Cristiano Ronaldo for soccer, LeBron for basketball and some of the other athletes, but they’re becoming puppets. I feel like we need to be careful of what we are wearing because every time you put those items on your feet or on your back, there’s so much blood and sweat and so much oppression on those items, so be careful.”
While Freedom said his main job is to play basketball, he added he does work with many organizations to help lawmakers create bills to try to put sanctions on countries violating human rights. Freedom also works in an effort to free political prisoners.
But for Freedom, he plans to keep his focus squarely on human rights and not allow himself to be used as a political pawn.
“I never had a side. I’m not a democrat or I’m not a republican. I said this from day one,” Freedom said. “Some of the things I do, people might be mistaken because I don’t do politics, I do human rights. There’s a thin, but huge line between human rights and politics.”
Earlier this season, Freedom, an 11-year NBA veteran who was drafted by the Utah Jazz with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft and is now in his second stint with the Celtics, implied in a tweet he wasn’t receiving playing time due to his outspoken actions. Freedom did not see the floor due to a coach’s decision in 11 of Boston’s first 13 games.
Celtics coach Ime Udoka and Freedom talked about the playing time and Udoka stressed it wasn’t based on Freedom’s views. With the Celtics dealing with players in and out of the lineup since, including starting center Rob Williams, Freedom has provided a lift off the bench over the past eight games, averaging 5.4 points and 6.6 rebounds.
When it comes to his off-the-court stances, Freedom thanked his teammates, as well as the Celtics organization for backing him.
“I give huge credit to my teammates. They’ve been supportive,” Freedom said. “They are like my family. With their support, I have so much hope and motivation to fight and fight for what’s right. And the Celtics have been unbelievable too. They have been very supportive as well.”
Freedom hopes in the future more NBA players will join him in being outspoken for what they believe in. He said players are afraid to speak out due to repercussions they may face, but Freedom has no plans of backing down.
“If I believe in it then I’m just going out there and saying it,” Freedom said. “Like I said, I’m not really scared of anything because this is bigger than basketball.”