On the most generous possible read, the NBA-China news cycle has revealed just how little players and coaches have ever considered the ethical stakes of doing business with an authoritarian state. The more cynical read is that they understand these stakes well enough but have decided there’s way too much money on the table to describe them out loud. (On Monday, LeBron James, with his oblique references to physical violence, did more or less just that.)
While their inability to burp up the most watery support of “free speech”—let alone pay lip service to the underlying civil rights issues—is disappointing, it’s on some level understandable. On a bleak worldview, all they have is cash to lose; the people at issue are far away and unlikely to be affected by any remarks they make; and the politics are all unfamiliar—which is not to say they’re too complicated to grasp on the TIME-for-Kids level required to respond to reporters’ questions. It’s just not worth it to them. There are bags to be secured.
So it is heartening to tune out all the canned responses and read the words of one NBA player who is intimately familiar with and outspoken on authoritarianism. Enes Kanter has spent years denouncing the regime of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in his native Turkey, at great personal cost. Monday night he indirectly signaled that he was sickened and disappointed by James’s comments, before writing this:
Today, the Celtics center reshared an op-ed written for the Boston Globe last week. “I have a prominent platform and I want to use it to promote respect for human rights, democracy, and personal freedom,” Kanter wrote. “For me, this is bigger than basketball. Being a champion of tens of thousands of voiceless people back in my home country carries a risk that includes death threats and arrest warrants.”
While Kanter’s piece carefully skirts any mention of China or Daryl Morey, using a recent confrontation with Erdoğan supporters as its newspeg instead, the current NBA news cycle serves as the implicit backdrop. The fact that Kanter doesn’t name any particulars likely has far more to do with a team- or league-mandated gag order than his personal value system. He’s already spoken out in ways that have cost him much more than money.
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Correction (1:39 p.m. ET): Enes Kanter’s Globe op-ed was published online last Thursday and in print last Friday, before LeBron made his comments. Kanter only reshared his column today. The post has been amended.