It’s been over a year since Enes Kanter Freedom last played in an NBA game, but the 11-year NBA veteran remains in the public eye as he continues to advocate for human rights across the world.
Kanter Freedom will be presented with the inaugural Riverton, Utah, “Mayor’s Freedom Award” on Wednesday for exercising his freedom of speech as he continues to speak out against human rights abuses in China and other countries around the globe.
He’ll return to the state where his NBA career began in order to be presented with the award, nearly 12 years after being drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz.
“Utah plays a very important role in my life because I got drafted by the Utah Jazz and played there [for] three and half years,” Kanter Freedom told Fox News Digital. “And while I played for the Utah Jazz, the whole city, the whole state, really took me in. They pretty much became my family.
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“To get an award in Utah definitely means a lot to me,” Kanter Freedom continued.
April 12th, 2023, will also be known as “Enes Freedom Day” in the city of Riverton.
“Not only is he a phenomenal athlete, a great basketball player, but at the same time, he’s just a champion,” Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs told Fox News Digital. “He’s an ambassador for freedom of speech. And he comes at it from a vantage point that so many of us don’t really fully appreciate because we’ve always had the First Amendment here. But in Turkey, his home country, he hasn’t had that.”
Staggs said the award promotes citizens being “ambassadors for freedom of speech and being able to speak up to injustice.”
“We are strong, ardent supporters of our constitution and our Bill of Rights here in the city of Riverton,” Staggs added. “And as mayor, this is something I want to be able to highlight and demonstrate the importance for our youth and for all of our citizens.”
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Kanter, who recently had a $500,000 bounty placed by Turkey on him for his capture, has long spoken out against human rights abuses in his home country.
But in October 2021, as a member of the Boston Celtics, Kanter Freedom turned his attention toward China, calling the leader of the Chinese Communist Party a “brutal dictator” as he advocated for an independent Tibet.
He did so by wearing custom sneakers after Kanter Freedom said he had a conversation with a Chinese concentration camp survivor.
“I wanted to do it in a very colorful, unique way,” Kanter Freedom said. “Because when I was a kid I used to watch NBA games all the time, and the first thing I was looking at was the shoes.
“So, I decided to reach out to artists from around the world and come up with this idea for putting all the struggles, all the tortures of everything, on the shoes and go out there and play basketball.”
It garnered immediate backlash for the NBA, with the Chinese streaming service Tencent pulling Celtics games off of Chinese media.
The NBA’s business with China is estimated to be roughly $5 billion, according to a May 2022 report by ESPN.
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Kanter Freedom says he was pressured by the National Basketball Player Association to stop wearing the shoes, to which he eventually relented.
In a way.
In Boston’s next game, Kanter Freedom wore a different pair of custom shoes, this time with the message “Free Uyghur” written on them.
“They called me after the game [the NBPA] and said ‘You’re a liar. You lied to us.’ I said, ‘I did not lie to you. I did not wear Free Tibet shoes. I just wore Free Uyghur shoes.’”
Kanter Freedom would continue his campaign throughout the first few months of the 2021-22 season, calling out Nike, the NBA, and superstar LeBron James for turning a blind eye toward China’s human rights abuses.
In February 2022, Kanter Freedom was traded by the Celtics to the Houston Rockets where he was quickly waived.
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He has not played in the NBA since and tells Fox News Digital that no team has reached out to him or his agent to inquire about his services.
“Of course, everybody knows I am being blackballed by the NBA for the things that I stand for,” Kanter Freedom said.
During the 2020-21 season, Kanter Freedom averaged a double-double with the Portland Trail Blazers, scoring 11.2 points and grabbing 11 rebounds per game..
At 30 years old, Kanter Freedom still has the desire to play basketball, but believes he won’t be granted another opportunity.
“I’m healthy, I love basketball. I can play [for] another five years,” he said. “Another five, six years. Of course, I love basketball. I would like to continue playing basketball, but everyone knows it’s not going to happen.
After he started speaking out against China, Kanter Freedom was told by his agent that if he continued, he would never receive another NBA contract.
But Kanter Freedom chose to continue speaking out for the innocent.
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“After air, water, and food, I think that freedom is the most important thing for human beings,” Kanter Freedom said. “And you don’t realize how important it is until someone comes and takes it away from you. In my home country [of] Turkey, you tweet something against the government, you’ll be tortured and raped and be in jail for the rest of your life.
“The American people should feel very blessed to be in a country like this. Where you have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of protest, and freedom of movement. So, don’t take it for granted.”
After being presented with the award at a press conference on Wednesday, Kanter will conduct a basketball skills camp at Riverton High School with between 100–120 kids in attendance.
“He’s a great athlete, he started his career here in Utah, but really it isn’t for his athletic prowess that he’s being recognized,” Staggs told Fox News Digital. “It has to do with his commitment, his ambassadorship if you will, for freedom of speech.
“We’ve kind of entered this era of wokeness, and political correctness and ideology, and you see that some speech seems to be protected and free while other speech is met with really stark condemnation,” Staggs continued. “I really hope that as a result of this, the citizens can really be thoughtful and engage in speech, differing types of speech, and really think for themselves and understand why some things are so protected right now and others are not.”
Fox News Digital reached out to the NBA and NBPA for comment and had not heard back by the time of publication.