Why Enes Kanter's safety is in danger traveling outside the United States

Why Enes Kanter's safety is in danger traveling outside the United States

During a visit to his native Turkey in 2015, Enes Kanter huddled his family for a conversation about some blowback he worried they'd soon endure given Kanter's growingly outspoken nature towards Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Kanter worried his family would endure harassment and possibly death threats if Kanter continued to use his NBA platform to speak out against the Turkish government.

His family pledged their support but Kanter had a bad feeling about what was ahead.

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"The next day, I remember, I left our apartment, put my bags in a cab, and I turned around and I saw my mom. She was waving. And I'm like, ‘This is the last time I’m seeing my mom,’” said Kanter. "Get in the car, and we left, I’m like, 'I don’t think I’m going to see my mom again. … I got on the plane, we take off, and I’m like, ’This is the last time I’ve seen Turkey,’ because I knew where this was going.’"

Kanter’s premonition was correct. Two years later, the Turkish government revoked his passport, labeled him a terrorist, and issued an Interpol red notice that makes it impossible for him to travel outside the United States without fear of arrest.

On Tuesday, Kanter traveled to Toronto after the Canadian government ensured he could travel safely in their country when the Boston Celtics visit the Raptors on Wednesday afternoon as part of the NBA’s Christmas slate.

Kanter is thrilled not to be stuck back in Boston on the holiday when his mind would otherwise wander to those he was not near — including his teammates, but especially his family. Still the whole process only hammers home the headaches he now endures with hopes of promoting democracy in a homeland he might never set foot in again.

"A terrorist,” said Kanter, scoffing at what he’s been labeled by the Turkish government. "It’s pretty funny. I actually said it, the only thing I terrorize is the basketball rim.”

Kanter said his troubles started in 2013 when he first became vocal about the issues in his homeland. Said Kanter, “There is no freedom — of speech, religion, expression. There’s no democracy.”

The Interpol red notice means that Kanter cannot travel safely outside the United States, where he currently has a green card, without fear of arrest and return to Turkey. In the slow crawl to him becoming an official U.S. citizen in June 2021, he’s avoided any NBA activities outside the states, which nearly became an issue last season when his Portland Trail Blazers made it to the Western Conference finals and a potential Finals matchup with Toronto loomed.

But that started the ball rolling towards gaining Canada’s help in ensuring his safety if he were to travel there for a game. With the help from the Celtics, Kanter got that assurance this week and joined the team for their trip north of the border on Tuesday.

Kanter did not speak to the assembled media Tuesday and the team was tight-lipped on his situation. Mike Zarren, assistant general manager and team counsel, gave a single-sentence statement after Boston’s morning workout noting, "The Celtics don’t generally have any comment on any individual player’s immigration or personal security matters but we’re happy Enes is coming with us to Toronto.”

The Celtics need Kanter. Together with starting center Daniel Theis, he’s tag-teamed most of the big-man minutes for Boston recently with younger bigs Robert Williams (hip bruise) and Vincent Poirier (broken finger) sidelined by injury.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens acknowledged Kanter’s situation but admitted his safety was the priority in all this.

"I think we need Enes, and Enes is a big part of our team but, at the same time, obviously, for his sake and for his peace of mind, that he feels comfortable going.”

An example of why traveling abroad is so dangerous for Kanter. It was on a trip to Romania in May 2017 that he learned his passport had been revoked. A customs agent told Kanter he couldn’t enter the country. 

"I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is ridiculous.’ It was very dangerous because I’m not an American citizen yet,” said Kanter. "Romania, and the Romanian government, couldn’t send me back here safely because I’m a Turkish citizen. As soon as we landed there, I was like, ‘We've got to get out of this country, we have to get back to America as soon as possible.’”

Kanter arranged for a flight to New York via London. But when he touched down in London, police entered the aircraft.

“The captain announced it: Nobody gets up,” said Kanter. “The plane doors open, police with these big machine guns walks in. I’m like, ‘If this police is here for me, it’s over. It is over. I’m not coming back to America ever again.’ They were going right, left, they were trying to search, trying to find somebody, but it was not us.”

Kanter missed his flight to New York and had to stay in the terminal overnight before making the harrowing connection home, thanks in part to a friendly Homeland Security agent.

There is no guarantee all will go smoothly in Canada, but Kanter seemed confident in the days before traveling. He’s simply happy to be with his teammates on the holiday.

“Basketball is my escape. Whenever I step on the court, it’s all about going out there and having fun, winning, fans, basketball, Tacko [Fall], Frenchie [Vincent Poirier]. It’s all about having fun. 

“As soon as you step off the court, the war starts.”

Learn more about Kanter’s situation by listening to this week’s episode of the Enes Kanter Show. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Raptors, which tips off Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike and Scal have the call at 12 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Celtics sign head coach Brad Stevens to contract extension

Celtics sign head coach Brad Stevens to contract extension

Brad Stevens isn't going anywhere.

The Boston Celtics announced Wednesday they have signed their head coach to a contract extension. The terms of the deal were not announced.

Stevens, 43, is in his seventh season as head coach of the Celtics. He was hired by Boston in 2013 after a very successful run with the Butler University men's basketball team.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Wizards, which begins Thursday at 11 a.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at noon. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

“Brad is one of the most intelligent and hard-working coaches in the game today,” Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge said in a team press release. “More importantly, his character and integrity have contributed to a culture that we all highly value here. Brad is a great teammate, and a leader people want to follow. We are honored to have him with us as we continue to pursue our next championship.”

Stevens' 318 wins are the fourth-most in Celtics history, trailing only Doc Rivers (416), Tommy Heinsohn (427) and Red Auerbach (795). 

The Celtics have reached the playoffs in each of the last six seasons, including the current 2019-20 campaign. 

Brad Wanamaker enjoying 'the journey' as key reserve in Celtics' playoff run

Brad Wanamaker enjoying 'the journey' as key reserve in Celtics' playoff run

Prior to heading into the NBA’s restart bubble, Boston’s Brad Wanamaker had a plan.

“Stay consistent. Try to stay in the rotation,” Wanamaker told NBC Sports Boston. “Just enjoy the journey. It’s been great so far.”

Especially for Wanamaker, who has been a steady presence off the Celtics bench in their seven seeding games in Orlando. 

And with an eighth and final tuneup before the playoffs start, Wanamaker has achieved most of his goals this season with the playoffs around the corner. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Wizards, which begins Thursday at 11 a.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at noon. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

But what Wanamaker has done in the seven games in the bubble goes beyond keeping the playmaking seat warm for the likes of Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart. He’s heating things up with his play that ranks among the best players under the bubble. 

Wanamaker’s return was a bit unexpected considering he played sparingly last season and the Celtics already had a roster of playmaking versatility.

He has a net rating of +23.9, which is second only to current Los Angeles Clipper and former Celtic Marcus Morris Sr. (+24.0) among players to appear in at least five games in the bubble. Wanamaker’s net rating stands head and shoulders above any other Celtics player, with the next in line being Jayson Tatum at +14.0.

His play has been somewhat surprising, serving as a clear push-back on the notion that Boston has a weak bench. 

Other than Marcus Smart, Boston’s backups haven’t gotten much love this season. But in the bubble, a number of them have made the most of opportunities to play a more steady role, with Wanamaker near the top of that list. 

Alongside Smart, Wanamaker gives Boston a gritty defensive tandem that has made its mark. The duo has played in all seven bubble games for Boston, and has a net rating of 33.3 which ranks second on the team's two-man units to Wanamaker and Gordon Hayward (35.0) among tandems to play together in each of their seven games. 

While Wanamaker’s numbers paired with others are indeed impressive, his individual scoring (11.5 points on 65.2 percent shooting from the field) during Boston’s four-game winning streak has been among the keys to the team’s run of success lately. And while his play has been steady of late, his presence behind the scenes has been a constant all season. 

“A lot of guys look up to him,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said earlier this season. “He’s kind of been a quiet leader for us.”

Celtics Talk Podcast: Banner 18 in the bubble? Celtics' title chances getting stronger as postseason nears | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

The 31-year-old Wanamaker has been a voice in the ears of the team’s younger players, some of whom Wanamaker has found himself having to compete against for minutes. 

Like so many of them, he knows all too well what it feels like to sit on the bench and not play, unsure when — if at all — your number is going to be called. 

“Your mental can be really (expletive) up if you’re not playing like you want to play or you come into a situation and look for it to go a certain way and it doesn’t,” he said. “I’m constantly checking in on those guys. We have a very talented group of guys. You see it in the summer, preseason and some games … just try to stay in their ear so that when their time comes, they’re ready.”

Words he not only preaches, but also lives by with his play.