While Enes Kanter and the Portland Trail Blazers are fighting to keep their season alive against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, the Trail Blazers center is fighting for something else behind the scenes.
Kanter has been a fierce critic of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Turkey’s descent into authoritarianism. Because of his outspoken beliefs of the Turkish government, the 27-year-old player has been the target of death threats and fears for his life.
Kanter has said the Turkish government has requested an INTERPOL “red notice,” which essentially is a request to locate and arrest an individual pending extradition. While a search of INTERPOL’s red notice database did not reveal any current notices against Kanter, it’s important to note not all notices are disseminated publicly.
While the 6-foot-11 center is focused on helping his team win a championship for the first time in 42 years, Kanter sat down with ESPN’s Tim Keown to talk about the death threats he’s received, why he’ll keep voicing his opinion and what it's like to have the support from Oregon Senator Ron Wyden.
Kanter revealed that upon joining the Blazers in February, he spoke with local FBI agents, who suggested he install a panic button within arm's reach next to his bed.
“So Enes Kanter goes to sleep every night and wakes up every morning with tangible proof of his own mortality -- and others' possible designs on it -- less than an arm's length away. This, too, Kanter relays dispassionately, as if a bedside-table panic button connected to law enforcement is simply one more modern amenity, like a high-tech thermostat. He has learned to accept the absurd as normal.”
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden explains why he and Kanter have become friends, and why he recently wrote a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking Canada to ensure Kanter’s safe passage in and out of the country.
"Sen. Ron Wyden, a 6-foot-4 former basketball player at UC Santa Barbara, wrote a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asking for Canada to ensure Kanter's safe passage in and out of the country. Since he joined the Blazers, Kanter and Wyden have become friends; Wyden took Kanter's case not only to Trudeau but to the floor of the Senate, where he warned Erdogan, through the vast but underwatched reach of C-SPAN, that America was paying attention to the "show trial" planned in April for Kanter's father."
Despite the threats Kanter receives every day, his teammate Jake Layman says it’s something he rarely talks about.
"He tries to keep that to a minimum. I've heard it's not pretty, and I've heard that it's serious stuff. I think the way he's handled it has been amazing. Fighting for his country every chance he gets -- it's very inspiring to see how much he goes through to fight for what he believes in."
Kanter doesn’t have any plans to stop his outspoken defiance against Erdogan anytime soon.
"I will never stop talking. I understand my mother and father and sister are in Turkey, but if I stop talking, who is going to speak for the thousands and thousands of innocent people in jail? People are getting tortured and killed, so I have to talk about these issues. I'm not a journalist or a politician, so this is my platform."