When the Western Conference finals begin on Tuesday night, most NBA fans in Turkey won’t be able to watch.
According to Reuters, Turkish broadcaster S Sport, the country’s primary television outlet for the NBA, will not air the games between the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers because of the presence of Enes Kanter, who has filled in as Portland’s starting center following the injury to Jusuf Nurkic.
Kanter, 26, has been an outspoken opponent of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, so much so that he would be arrested if he returned to his home country. Erdogan’s government also revoked passports for Kanter’s family. Kanter, whose passport was also canceled, has not stepped foot in Turkey since 2016.
“I can say clearly that we will not be broadcasting the Warriors-Blazers series,” S Sport commentator Omer Sarac told Reuters. “Furthermore, if Portland makes it to the finals, [that] will not be broadcast either.”
While S Sport will not carry Kanter’s games, the NBA said the games will be available on NBA League Pass and NBA TV International.
Oregon Senator asks Canada to ensure Kanter's safety
The Turkish government sought an international arrest warrant for Kanter in January. That same month, when Kanter played for the Knicks, he opted not to travel to London for a game against the Wizards. After joining Portland, he also decided not to go to Toronto for a February game against the Raptors, fearing for his safety.
If the Blazers pull off the upset of Golden State and move into the NBA Finals, they could end up facing Toronto — a potential issue for Kanter. In an effort to ensure Kanter’s safety, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden will send a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking the country to “facilitate Mr. Kanter’s safe passage to and from Canada.”
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) May 14, 2019
Kanter: ‘It’s a dictatorship’
In an interview with The Washington Post, Kanter said the Turkish government is “afraid” of him.
“All these NBA fans, they want to watch the Western Conference finals, but they can’t all because of me. It’s funny and crazy. [The Turkish government] is afraid of an NBA player,” Kanter told the Post.
“I’m not a politician. It’s not my job, but everyone is so scared of Erdogan that I have to step up and speak out for freedom and human rights. It shows it’s a dictatorship in Turkey.”
Earlier this month, the NBA’s Turkish Twitter account did not mention Kanter after a Portland win over Denver in the second round. Kanter called it out.
What a messed up country lead by #TurkishDictator @RTErdogan
Only Turkish player out here tonight, and the official @NBA for Turkey @NBAturkiye is censoring me. They dont show blazers games in Turkey. The government controls people,this a problem. How can official NBA allow this pic.twitter.com/Zvny0NwF8C
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) May 2, 2019
Soon after, the NBA terminated its relationship with the vendor operating the NBA Turkey account. Kanter said whoever ran the account must have been “scared” of upsetting the government.
"They know if they put my name out there, they could get in trouble or they might even end up in jail,” Kanter told the Post. “That shows it's a dictatorship. That shows there's no freedom of speech in Turkey. It's crazy. Basketball reporters in Turkey cannot even say my name because they will all be in trouble."
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