Young basketball players who had hoped to attend a free clinic this weekend in Westbury with former Knicks center Enes Kanter won’t be seeing the NBA player after a mosque postponed the event.
Kanter says the Islamic Center of Long Island caved to pressure from the Turkish Consulate in New York City. The mosque and its leaders say the Boston Celtics center’s appearance was becoming too wrapped up in politics and controversy, when the event was supposed to be just about kids, basketball and fun. On Thursday, a private basketball training facility in West Hempstead said it would host Kanter for the clinic.
Kanter, who is Muslim, has been in a long and very public feud with the government of his home country of Turkey and was tried in absentia for his comments criticizing the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Turkey revoked Kanter's passport, and that has kept him from traveling outside of the United States in the past year.
Kanter has spent the summer providing free basketball camps across the United States, with the latest scheduled for Sunday in Westbury with players ages 7 to 14. On Wednesday, he tweeted that the Westbury camp was off.
“I write this with a heavy heart,” Kanter wrote on his verified Twitter account. “This weekend I was scheduled to provide a FREE basketball camp in Long Island, NY at the Islamic Center of Long Island. This would be my 34th FREE camp this summer in over 25 states. I do these camps as part of charity and giving back to all communities, whether they are Jewish, Muslim, Christian or have no faith at all. Which is why I am so hurt that the Islamic Center of Long Island has decided to cancel the camp after the Turkish Consulate in NYC threatened the mosque, sent out their goons and encouraged people in Turkey to call the mosque and leave threatening messages.”
Mosque officials gave a different version, saying they received no threats from the consulate or elsewhere and were postponing — though not canceling — the event because of the political controversy swirling around Kanter and tensions it was stoking within the congregation.
“It started to have a political overtone,” said Michael Balboni, a former state senator who serves as counsel for the mosque. “It’s not supposed to be about politics. It’s supposed to be about kids.”
Balboni denied allegations by Kanter that the mosque was threatened by the Turkish Consulate in New York.
“That’s his perspective,” Balboni said. “I think that he obviously has a history with the Turkish government, and therefore he has some other perspectives that we don’t necessarily share."
Kanter followed up with another tweet on Thursday that read, "You let a #TurkishDictator and @TRConsulNY run your mosque. Muslims should understand we have freedom and do not need to bow to dictators. I will make a free camp for the kids elsewhere We tell kids to stand up to bullies, but you allow Turkish Government to bully you."
Alper Aktas, the consul general at Turkey's consulate in New York, called Kanter's allegations that he threatened the mosque "lies, lies, and lies. He wants to portray himself as an innocent, nice man, as a victim of oppression. But he’s not such a nice guy."
Balboni said the mosque "was not bullied. They were not threatened. It was pointed out that this individual is a controversial fellow and therefore perhaps it’s not the best time to do this, and then we were urged to look up his background."
Kanter nonetheless said he was “even more disappointed in the Mosque for not calling the police on these thugs."
Balboni, a former chairman of the state Senate Homeland Security Committee, said the mosque never contacted police because it never received any threats.
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) retweeted Kanter’s first message and added, in part, “This is shameful. My office is working with @EnesKanter to find an alternative location nearby that can host his camp.”
Jim Fox,owner of Island Garden Basketball Arena in West Hempstead, said Thursday that Kanter will hold the clinic at his facility. "The guy’s a nice guy. He does a lot of good for kids," he said.
The free clinic is scheduled for Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m., a facility manager said. No pre-registration is required.
In January, Kanter’s troubles with his home country reached a new level as he was forced to remain behind while the Knicks traveled to London for a game. Kanter has not been able to travel to Turkey since 2015.