LOS ANGELES — The wins and losses - mostly losses - and frustration over his playing time and role with the Knicks had irritated Enes Kanter of late. But that all took a back seat to the realities of life that Kanter has found himself embroiled.
Kanter stood in front of his locker late Friday night, the celebration from the Knicks’ rare victory wearing down and the celebrities already exited from the locker room. And he began to speak about the only subject that seems to remove his smile.
Kanter, who has not been to his home country of Turkey since 2015 and is unable to visit or speak with his family there, has been in a long-running battle with Turkish president Recep Erdoğan. A vocal critic of Erdoğan and a supporter of Pennsylvania-based exiled dissident Fethullah Gülen, Kanter has had his passport revoked. He was stranded in a Romanian airport in 2017 while on a trip to support his charity and needed help from the NBA and U.S. politicians to escape.
“Well, I talked to the [Knicks’] front office,” he said after the win over the Lakers on Friday night. “Sadly, I’m not going because of that freaking lunatic, the Turkish president. There’s a chance that I can get killed out there. So that’s why I talked to the front office. I’m not going. So I’m just going to stay here, just practice here.
“It’s pretty sad that just all this stuff affects my career and basketball, because I want to be out there helping my team win. But just because of that one lunatic guy, one maniac or dictator, I can’t even go out there and just do my job.”
Asked if he is serious in his concern that he could be killed, Kanter said: “Oh yeah, easy. They’ve got a lot of spies there. I can get killed very easy. That will be a very ugly situation.”
Just over a year ago, news surfaced from Turkey’s state-run news agency that Kanter will be tried in absentia, an indictment seeking more than four years in prison for his criticism of Erdogan. His father, Mehmet, a professor, was detained at one point, indicted and then released, having disavowed his son.
At that time, Kanter said: “I’ve said this before, that dude is a maniac. Think about it. I mean, America, you’ve got freedom of speech — or you had. You’ve got freedom of speech. You’ve got freedom of whatever you want to say. I mean, it’s a free country.
“But it’s not like that in Turkey. You cannot criticize or you cannot even say nothing bad about the dude, Erdogan. Just like say he’s a bad guy and you’re in a prison. It’s politics. People can choose or say whatever they want to say. I think right now the situation there is pretty messed up.”
Kanter said he has been unable to fly anywhere outside the United States other than Canada. A team official came to the media room after Kanter spoke and said Kanter is not going because of a visa issue.
The 26-year-old center had 16 points and 15 rebounds Friday, but his presence is not urgent for the Knicks right now with the team mired near the bottom of the standings with a 10-29 record. Kanter was removed from the starting lineup in favor of Luke Kornet for the last four games.