Veteran NBA center Enes Freedom believes his public comments criticizing China’s human rights record – and the NBA for doing business with the country – led to his lack of playing time and his release, writes Sopan Deb of The New York Times.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize why I got little playing time and was released,” Freedom said. “But it does take people with a conscience to speak out and say it’s not right.”
While Freedom likened his recent experience in the NBA to Colin Kaepernick’s in the NFL, commissioner Adam Silver called that comparison “completely unfounded and unfair,” disputing the idea that the NBA has blackballed the player formerly known as Enes Kanter.
“We spoke directly about his activities this season,” Silver told The New York Times. “And I made it absolutely clear to him that it was completely within his right to speak out on issues that he was passionate about.”
Freedom claimed that Silver is mischaracterizing their conversation, but didn’t offer specifics, according to Deb.
Freedom, who stated earlier this season that league officials attempted to stop him from wearing shoes that read “Free Tibet” during a Celtics game, has since said those officials were actually with the C’s, Deb adds. Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens said staff members merely asked Freedom if his shoes violated the league’s dress code.
“Even the next day, I just walked up to him and said, ‘Hey, you always have our support to freely express yourself and say what you want,'” Stevens told The New York Times. According to Deb, Freedom confirmed that exchange.
As Deb observes, it would be difficult to prove Freedom’s blackball allegations one way or the other, since the veteran center’s role had already been declining before he began speaking out about China.
The 29-year-old is a talented inside scorer and rebounder, but doesn’t have an outside shot and has long been considered a defensive liability (Billy Donovan‘s infamous in-game “can’t play Kanter” quote occurred all the way back in 2017). Other former lottery picks with similar skill sets, such as Greg Monroe and Jahlil Okafor, are also currently out of the NBA.
Freedom has been out of work since he was traded from Boston to Houston on February 10 and officially waived by the Rockets four days later, but he won’t give up his efforts to get back into the league, as Deb relays.
“I don’t want to retire at the age of 29,” Freedom said.