LeBron James: Enes Kanter's 'trying to use my name to create an opportunity for himself'

Lakers superstar LeBron James sits on the bench ahead of Friday's game against the Celtics at TD Garden. (Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)
Lakers superstar LeBron James sits on the bench ahead of Friday's game against the Celtics at TD Garden. (Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

BOSTON — Enes Kanter passed Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James without exchanging a word during pregame warmups on Friday night, but the Boston Celtics center's sneakers said more than enough.

One of Kanter's sneakers featured James' likeness being crowned by Chinese president Xi Jinping. The other read, "I am informed and educated on the situation," a reference to James' 2019 comments in the wake of then-Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's tweet in support of protests in Hong Kong.

"Money over morals for the 'King,'" Kanter wrote Thursday on social media, along with a series of photos of his custom sneakers designed by Chinese artist Badiucao. "Sad and disgusting how these athletes pretend they care about social justice. They really do 'shut up and dribble' when Big Boss [China] says so. Did you educate yourself about the slave labor that made your shoes or is that not part of your research?"

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Following Friday's 130-108 loss to the Celtics, James said he had not spoken to Kanter.

"I don't give too many people my energy," said James, who made his return from an abdominal strain that cost him the previous eight games. "He's definitely not someone I would give my energy to. He's trying to use my name to create an opportunity for himself. I definitely won't comment too much on that. ... He's always had a word or two to say in my direction, and as a man, if you've got an issue with somebody, you really come up to him. He had his opportunity tonight. I saw him in the hallway, and he walked right by me."

Kanter's sneakers are part of his season-long advocacy for human rights in China. He has worn different pairs every game in support of citizens of Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang seeking sovereignty from Chinese rule. The custom sneakers have featured a host of pointed messages: "Free China," "Taiwan belongs to the Taiwanese people," "Free Hong Kong," "Free Uyghur," "No Beijing 2022," "Stop genocide, torture, rape, slave labor," "Stop organ harvesting in China," "Close the camps" and "Modern-day slavery."

Against the Washington Wizards on Oct. 27, Kanter wore Air Jordans featuring the phrases "Hypocrite Nike," "Made with slave labor" and "No more excuses." The U.S. State Department determined that the Chinese government has detained more than 1 million Uyghurs and other minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) since 2017. The department's 2020 report on international religious freedom estimated as many as "1.6 million transferred laborers were at risk of being subjected to forced labor."

In a tweet before that game, Kanter called on Nike co-founder Phil Knight, as well as Nike endorsers James and Michael Jordan, to "visit these SLAVE labor camps and you can see it with your own eyes." James has a lifetime contract with Nike that his business partner estimated to be worth more than $1 billion in 2016.

"We are concerned about reports of forced labor in, and connected to, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR)," Nike said in a statement in March. "Nike does not source products from the XUAR and we have confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region."

Celtics games have been banned from Tencent, a private streaming service in China, since Kanter wore sneakers featuring the phrase "Free Tibet" during Boston's season opener. Tencent signed a five-year, $1.5 billion broadcast rights deal with the NBA in 2019. With few exceptions, China Central Television, the government's state-run broadcasting service, has not aired NBA games since Morey's controversial tweet.

James drew criticism following Morey's 2019 support of protesters in Hong Kong when he said of the former Rockets general manager, "I believe he was misinformed or not really educated on the situation."

James clarified days later on Twitter, "I do not believe there was any consideration for the consequences and ramifications of [Morey's] tweet. I’m not discussing the substance. Others can talk about that."

Kanter has taken up that mantle throughout this season, even if not directly to James.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach