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Highlights and livestreams of Boston Celtics games have been erased from the NBA’s Chinese broadcast partner after one of the team’s players attacked government policy in Tibet.
Enes Kanter, the team’s veteran center, spoke out on what he called “cultural genocide” in Tibet, and called China’s leader, Xi Jinping, a “brutal dictator”. It also prompted a rebuke from China’s foreign ministry which accused him of “clout-chasing”.
Tibet has been under Chinese rule for decades. During that time the government has jailed and allegedly beaten monks and nuns, subjected villages to political education sessions, jailed people who have promoted local languages, enacted mass surveillance, and placed restrictions on daily life and education. China claims it peacefully liberated Tibet and freed the region from the feudal system.
The incident recalls events two years ago, when a Houston Rockets executive, Daryl Morey, tweeted support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, leading to a media blackout of the NBA in China. The league is thought to have suffered significant losses from the episode. The NBA also received criticism from those who said it promoted civil rights in the US, while ignoring similar abuses abroad.
Tencent, the NBA’s media partner in China, agreed a $1.5bn expansion of broadcasting rights with the league in 2019.
Kanter, who is Turkish, has been a long-term critic of his country’s authoritarian leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This week’s comments came after Kanter met Tibetans at a community center in New York.
— Enes Kanter (@EnesKanter) October 20, 2021
On Wednesday, he posted a video to social media expressing his views. “Under the Chinese government’s brutal rule, Tibetan people’s basic rights and freedoms are nonexistent,” Kanter said. “They are not allowed to study and learn their language and culture freely. ... They are not allowed to access information freely. The Tibetan people are not even allowed to worship freely. For more than 70 years, Tibetan monks, nuns, intellectuals, writers, poets, community leaders, athletes and many more have been detained, sent to political re-education classes, subject to torture, lengthy interrogations, and even been executed, simply for exercising the freedom that you and I take for granted.”
The video, posted on Twitter, had been viewed more than 880,000 times by Friday morning.
Kanter also wore shoes bearing the message “Free Tibet” during Wednesday’s game with the New York Knicks, which the Celtics lost in overtime.
Kanter’s actions drew an angry response on social media in China and, as of Thursday, Celtics games could not be accessed on the Tencent website. Streams and highlights of games featuring the Philadelphia 76ers, where Morey now works, were also unavailable.
At a regular press conference on Thursday, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, accused Kanter of “clout-chasing” and attention seeking.
“Tibet is part of China. We welcome unbiased friends upholding objectivity across the world to Tibet. In the meanwhile, we never accept the attacks and smears on Tibet’s development.”