NBA star Enes Kanter Freedom said the National Basketball Association tried to silence him for using his official uniform attire to criticize communist China’s treatment of Tibet, when he wore the slogan “Free Tibet” on his sneakers.
“There [were] two gentlemen came from the NBA [who] said, ‘Take those shoes off.’ I’m like, ‘Excuse me?’ He said, ‘Yep, take those shoes off.’ I was like, ‘I’m not taking the shoes off.’ They’re like, ‘Listen, we are begging you to take those shoes off.’ And I asked him, ‘Am I breaking any rules?’ They said, ‘No.’ … And after that I was like, ‘Go tell your boss, I don’t care if I get banned or fined. I’m not taking the shoes off.’ You know? And that game, I played zero minutes,'” Freedom told Megyn Kelly on SiriusXM’s “The Megyn Kelly Show.”
Freedom said he talked about the incident with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver who denied that he was doing anything wrong.
“I had a conversation with Adam Silver and I asked Adam like, ‘Adam, I’ve been getting so much like blowback and so much pressure from the league, am I breaking any rules?’ He said, ‘No.’ Okay, then from now on, I don’t want anyone to call me from the league to take my shoes off or to put a statement out there,” Freedom said.
Freedom said he first began to speak out against communist China’s human rights abuses against the people in Tibet and the Uyghurs because “it broke my heart.”
Freedom has grown increasingly open about his opposition to authoritarianism. In 2019, he refused to play in a Knicks game in London after Turkish prosecutors tried to get an international warrant for his arrest after they claimed he was in a terrorist organization. Freedom’s repeated comments denouncing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for violating human rights have prompted at least nine arrest warrants from Turkey, which canceled his passport in 2017.
More recently, a Chinese internet company with close ties to the communist government yanked Boston Celtics basketball games from the air after Freedom spoke out against the dictator Xi Jinping and his political cronies for oppressing Tibet.
Despite the pushback he receives from foreign governments, the NBA, and even fellow athletes such as LeBron James, Freedom said he will continue to speak out.
“The First Amendment is the greatest amendment, freedom of speech. And obviously, you know, I mean, people should be very blessed because, just because of tweets, or just because of this, the speeches that you talk, you’re not going to be put in jails,” Freedom said. “So I think it is important for people to speak their mind, because that is going to bring, bring change, you know, people need to wake up and speak up about, you know, issues not just happening in America, but all over the world. So it’s important to use that amendment.”
Freedom recently changed his surname to “Freedom” after he passed his U.S. citizenship test and was sworn in as an official citizen last month.