Outspoken former NBA player Enes Kanter Freedom opens up to OutKick about the NBA ignoring human rights violations in China, challenging social justice hypocrisy, and the future of his playing career.
Burack: Why are people in sports afraid to speak out against human rights violations in regards to countries other than the US? Why are you the only NBA player?
Kanter Freedom: Most people only do social justice work and all the civil rights work for their own PR because it looks good on their resume. They are not genuine. And speaking out is only good for your resume in certain cases.
For me, I was seeing the pockets firsthand in the NBA the last 11 years. I was in many locker rooms, I spoke with many basketball players and many coaches — and what they care about is their own PR.
So I wanted to expose them. You should not call yourself a civil rights activist or social justice warrior when you pick and choose when to care about human rights. They are lining their pockets by pretending to be human rights activists. They are not.
Burack: You are not on an NBA team right now. Is that because you speak out about human rights violations in China and Turkey?
Kanter Freedom: Let me give you a very easy stat, it is not rocket science: last year, I played for the Portland Trail Blazers and averaged a double-double. We made the playoffs. And they are telling me that six months later, I forgot how to play basketball?
Even the kids on the streets will laugh at that notion. I believe I could start in many cases right now, but because the things I say are hurting the NBA financially, they wanted me out of the league. It’s that simple.
I just turned 30, and they are pushing me to retire. I can play another six or seven years easily. But unfortunately, with a league like this and with the players in it like this, it looks like it’s not possible.
Burack: If you had known that speaking out would have cost you your NBA career, would you have still done it?
Kanter Freedom: I would do this every time. No question.
Why? While they are playing basketball right now, there is a genocide happening on the other side of the ocean. There are three to four million people in concentration camps who are tortured every day. And Uyghurs are not the only ones — you see what’s happening in places like Hong Kong, Tibet, Taiwan and Mongolians.
So this is bigger than my next paycheck. Of course I would do it all over again.
Let me ask you this, Bobby: would the NBA and these companies stand with Taiwan if China invades like they have Ukraine?
Burack: No way.
Kanter Freedom: Right, no way. Adam Silver is the biggest hypocrite of them all. The NBA is not genuine.
Burack: How much has the sports media contributed to the faux social justice branding of the NBA? ESPN hosts like Bomani Jones and Stephen A. Smith routinely call America racist but will never challenge the NBA to speak out for profiting from the CCP.
Kanter Freedom: I remember the first time I started to talk about the problems in China that not one person in sports media took it. They buried it. Only the political media talked about it. I was very confused. Why wouldn’t the sports media acknowledge what’s going on in China?
Then I talked to one of my teammates who said that the NBA runs the sports media. So, of course, none of the sports media journalists or hosts talk about China because the NBA runs ESPN, ABC and TNT, the league partners.
Sports journalists won’t make the NBA mad because they want access to locker rooms. That’s why the sports media pushed so hard for vaccines, the NBA was pushing for vaccines for all their players. The sports media is just following the NBA’s wishes.
The NBA is always going to protect the league and diminish any player who hurts the league’s bottom line by speaking out. The media is protecting the NBA.
Burack: What would you tell other NBA players who want to speak out but are afraid?
Kanter Freedom: My message to the players and your readers is to keep standing up for what they believe in, even if it means sacrificing everything you have.
People ask me all the time what they can do if they don’t have a platform, and I say if you see an item made from China at a store, put it down. Do not buy it. It makes a difference.
My second message is to understand that the NBA, in my opinion, is the most hypocritical organization out there. So we need to keep pushing the NBA to stand up for what is right. The NBA is a 100 percent American-made organization that the Chinese dictatorship runs.
That is unacceptable. Someone, whether it’s the Senate or other politicians, needs to say “enough is enough.” And it’s not just the NBA. Chinese-controlled US institutions also include Hollywood and academia. Someone has to stop this.