Boston Celtics big man Enes Freedom, formerly known as Enes Kanter, is one of the only NBA players willing to speak out against China's "brutal dictator" Xi Jinping and the country's continued human rights violations. His willingness to speak out when so many of his peers have stayed quiet has garnered him plenty of fanfare across the country.
But not everyone is pleased with his activism, including the NBA, which has a close partnership with China. Members of the association are apparently so upset with Freedom that they've even attacked his choice of footwear.
“Before the game at Madison Square Garden, two gentlemen from the NBA begged me to take the shoes off,” Freedom told the New York Post of his decision in November to wear custom shoes that say "Free Tibet."
Freedom, who grew up in Turkey and who officially became a U.S. citizen late last month, refused to comply with the request, citing his citizenship notes which suggest he didn't need to.
“I was confused. I was getting ready for my citizenship test, and I knew that the First Amendment is freedom of speech. Them telling me to take my shoes off went against my First Amendment rights. I said I would not take them off. I didn’t care if I got banned or fined," Freedom told The Post. "During halftime I received a text message from my manager: All the Celtics games were suddenly banned in China. It took one half of a Celtics game, with me wearing these shoes, on the bench, for the games to get banned.”
Per The Post, the NBA denies that any employee of theirs asked Freedom to remove his sneakers, which is unusual because the NBA is generally so willing to talk about anything and everything related to China.
“They asked me if I would wear those shoes again and I promised not to — but I wore ‘Free Uyghur,’” Freedom told the New York Post, referring to a minority Muslim group that has endured horrific human rights abuses in China. “The National Basketball Players Association called me and harassed me. I told them to stop calling and texting me.”
Despite the NBA's efforts to silence Freedom's voice, he won't oblige them, telling The Post, "Now I am on a big stage and there are so many dictators out there who are destroying people. God gave me this platform, and I have to use it for the good fight.”
And now the NBA nervously waits for the other shoe to drop.
Follow along on Twitter: @OhioAF