Kanter's rant earns the ire of China

NEW YORK • The Boston Celtics' games were pulled abruptly from the Chinese Internet yesterday after the team's centre Enes Kanter denounced the country's leader, Xi Jinping, as a "brutal dictator", citing his government's repressive policies in Tibet.

The incident could spell fresh trouble for the National Basketball Association (NBA) in China. The league has millions of devoted fans there but has also just spent two years mending its image after a Houston Rockets executive tweeted support in 2019 for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

That tweet by Daryl Morey, who now works for the Philadelphia 76ers, sparked an uproar in China. Sponsors severed ties and the state-run broadcaster stopped airing games, leading to a financial fallout that the NBA estimated cost it hundreds of millions of dollars.

The NBA and the Celtics did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a video that was posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on Wednesday, Kanter decried what he called "cultural genocide" in Tibet.

"I say, 'Shame on the Chinese government,'" he said, wearing a T-shirt with the image of the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing considers a criminal separatist. "The Chinese dictatorship is erasing Tibetan identity and culture."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a news briefing yesterday that Kanter was "trying to get attention" and that his remarks "were not worth refuting".

But by yesterday, recent Celtics games were marked as unavailable for replay through Tencent, the Chinese Internet giant that has partnered the NBA to stream its games in the country. The website for Tencent Sports also indicated that upcoming Celtics games would not be live-streamed.

Tencent Sports has not been live-streaming games involving the 76ers, either. The team hired Morey last year as president of basketball operations.

Kanter was pilloried on Chinese social media and his name appeared to be blocked on the popular Weibo messaging platform.

By yesterday afternoon, his Chinese-language surname and full name yielded only one search result, compared with multiple results earlier in the morning.

Kanter, who is of Turkish heritage, has been an outspoken critic of Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkish prosecutors have sought the player's arrest, and his Turkish passport has been revoked.

NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2021, with the headline 'Kanter's rant earns the ire of China'. Subscribe