Chinese media removes Boston Celtics games after center Enes Kanter's 'Free Tibet' statements

October 21, 2021, 11:09 AM

Boston Celtics games have been pulled off Chinese media after center Enes Kanter tweeted a two-minute video of himself expressing support for Tibet and wore shoes with the phrase "Free Tibet" on them during Wednesday night's game against the New York Knicks.

"I'm here to add my voice and speak out about what is happening in Tibet. Under the Chinese government's brutal rule, Tibetan people's basic rights and freedoms are nonexistent," Kanter said in the video posted Wednesday on Twitter and Instagram. He called Chinese President Xi Jinping a "brutal dictator" in the text when he posted the video and wore a shirt with the image of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.

He followed that by wearing shoes designed by Badiucao, a dissident China-born cartoonist and artist based in Australia.

Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that Kanter was "trying to get attention" and that his remarks "were not worth refuting."

"We will never accept those attacks to discredit Tibet's development and progress," said the spokesman.

The Washington, D.C.-based office of His Holiness The Dalai Lama released a statement to ESPN later in the day that read in part: "We are thankful to Enes Kantor, NBA player for speaking in support of Tibet. In a two minutes video message he summed up the existential threat faced by the Tibetans under Chinese communist rule. Every word that he said is true."

The statement also noted that Kanter's "courageous act" of advocating on behalf of Tibetan independence came "at the huge risk to his personal life and career."

The New York Times reported Thursday that Celtics games were pulled from Tencent, the Chinese company that streams NBA games (ESPN and Tencent have a content-sharing partnership, and Tencent is a rights partner of the NBA). Previous replays are no longer available, and upcoming games are not set to be shown. 

Games involving the Philadelphia 76ers are also not streamed in China, two years after then- Houston Rockets executive Daryl Morey, now the Sixers' president of basketball operations, tweeted his support for the democracy movement in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong ahead of NBA preseason games in the country. Chinese state broadcaster CCTV stopped broadcasting NBA games after that.

A Celtics fan page on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter that is wildly popular, said it would stop posting about the team in light of the Kanter comments.

The NBA and Tencent have not commented on the situation.

Kanter also did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He did not play in the Celtics' season opener, a double-overtime loss to the Knicks.

Kanter's remarks came on the day the Olympic torch arrived in Beijing in preparation for the 2022 Olympic Games, which have prompted calls for a boycott over Chinese treatment of Tibet, Uyghur Muslims and Hong Kong.

Kanter has a long history of social activism. He has been an outspoken critic of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and was indicted in his home country in 2018 on charges of belonging to an armed terrorist group, which he denies. Turkey, which revoked his passport, is seeking his extradition.

Information from Reuters is included in this report.