Update (1220ET): Things are about to get serious for the NBA.
Following his statements yesterday, lambasting China's Xi Jinping over the treatment of Tibetans - that prompted China to ban all Boston Celtics games from TV - Turkish player Enes Kanter has issued a new Tweet that is even more aggressively pitched at the Chinese Premier.
Wearing a "Freedom for Uyghurs" t-shirt, Kanter calls out the "Heartless Dictator of China":
"I am calling you out in front of the whole world. Close down the SLAVE labor camps and free the UYGHUR people! Stop the GENOCIDE, now!"
Heartless Dictator of China,— Enes Kanter (@EnesKanter) October 22, 2021
XI JINPING and the Communist Party of China.
I am calling you out in front of the whole world.
Close down the SLAVE labor camps and free the UYGHUR people!
Stop the GENOCIDE, now!#FreeUyghurs pic.twitter.com/eEoiw5Uz2K
How long before a) Twitter removes it, b) The NBA rejects it, and/or c) China cuts off the entire NBA?
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As we detailed yesterday, in an incident that echoes the controversy unleashed by a seemingly innocuous tweet from then-Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey, the Chinese government has just banned broadcasts of all upcoming games involving the Boston Celtics after one of the NBA's star players released a recorded message denouncing Chinese President Xi Jinping as a "brutal dictator" and called for the CCP to finally "free" Tibet.
In the nearly three-minute video, Enes Kanter claimed that the CCP has robbed the people of Tibet of their "basic rights" and that Tibetans are "not able to worship freely" amongst a host of other freedoms denied to them by China. "Tibet belongs to the Tibetan people...under the Chinese government's brutal rule...[their] basic rights are nonexistent."
Enes, who was born in Switzerland and raised partly in Turkey (by parents of Turkish origin), added in a second tweet that more than 150 Tibetans have set themselves on fire to raise awareness about the dire situation in Tibet.
More than 150 Tibetan people have burned themselves alive!! — hoping that such an act would raise more awareness about Tibet.— Enes Kanter (@EnesKanter) October 20, 2021
I stand with my Tibetan brothers and sisters, and I support their calls for Freedom.#FreeTibet #FreedomShoes pic.twitter.com/MKxfs1l7GA
Those tweets were sent yesterday. But as of Thursday morning in the US, Chinese internet giant Tencent had removed all live-streaming for upcoming Celtics games, leaving fans confused and asking in the comment section of its sports page what had happened with the game. Of course, this isn't the first time the CCP has pulled the plug on broadcasting NBA games in China: they pulled broadcasts during Morey incident and even cancelled games involving NBA teams who had traveled to China to play.
So far it doesn't look like the NBA and its China arm have responded to any media requests for comment.
But during a press briefing Friday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman had a few choice words for Enes, according to Bloomberg.
Kanter was "grandstanding" to "draw eyeballs," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular press conference in Beijing on Thursday, without mentioning the NBA. "We welcome those objective friends to visit Tibet, but in the meantime, we will never accept any smear and attacks against Tibet’s progress and development," he added.
Already, it looks like posts about Kanter's comments have been censored from Chinese social media.
But this isn't the first time Kanter has used his platform to attack what he sees as corrupt or repressive foreign leaders: Kanter is still wanted in Turkey for defamation and terrorism after denouncing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over reports of human rights abuses, has routinely used his platform to advocate for human rights.
Following the Morey incident, the NBA quickly kowtowed to the CCP - earning condemnation from some American lawmakers - while LeBron James was harshly criticized for attacking Morey, claiming that Morey didn't really understand the issues he was talking about. This infuriated pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, who quickly accused James of hypocrisy due to his involvement with the Black Lives Matter movement.
One difference between the Morey incident is that he quickly deleted his tweets. Kanter's have remained up for nearly a day already.
The NBA is the most popular foreign sports league in China, and it's already a billion-dollar business for the league. And unlike last time around, this latest NBA-China drama is unfurling as military tensions between the US and China have been intensifying in the Pacific as Beijing inexorably prepares for the great "reunification" with Taiwan.
The question now is: how long until the NBA responds to this? Will their reaction involve bringing a star player with a reputation for activism to heel? Will James or other star players speak up to call Kanter's views on Tibet 'misguided'?