New NBA China Controversy: Tencent Drops Celtics Games After Kanter Calls Jinping ‘Brutal
Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter spoke out against the Chinese government on Twitter Wednesday, imploring leader Xi Jinping (whom he referred to as a “brutal dictator”) to free Tibet, causing the Chinese media company Tencent to pull all Celtics games from their streaming service, and reigniting tension between the NBA and the Chinese government.
Kanter posted a video on Twitter in which he called on Jinping and the Chinese government to free Tibet, citing the detaining and execution of Tibetan political prisoners as “cultural genocide.”
Kanter was spotted wearing shoes that read “Free Tibet” during the Celtics’ Wednesday night matchup with the New York Knicks.
In response, Tencent Sports, the media giant that streams NBA games in China, pulled Celtics games from their platform.
The Celtics are now the second NBA team to be pulled from the platform after the Philadelphia 76ers, whose president of basketball operations, Daryl Morey, also spoke out against the Chinese government in 2019 when he tweeted his support of Hong Kong protestors.
“Brutal dictator of China, Xi Jinping, I have a message for you and your henchmen,” Kanter said in his video. “I will say it again and again and again, loud and clear. I hope you hear me: Free Tibet. Free Tibet. Free Tibet.”
The NBA has already been banned from CCTV, China’s state-run television broadcaster, since Morey’s 2019 tweet, a move that cost the NBA up to $400 million, according to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said. The Houston Rockets, the team Morey was the general manager of at the time, was removed from Tencent. After Morey left Houston to become Philadelphia’s president of basketball operations, the 76ers were removed and the Rockets were reinstated. The service holds a $1.5 billion broadcasting deal with the league.
Lakers star LeBron James, known for being vocal about U.S. political and social issues, sided against Morey after he tweeted his support of the Hong Kong protestors, saying he “wasn’t educated on the situation” and “so many people could have been harmed not only financially, physically, emotionally, spiritually.” James has a longstanding business relationship with Nike, which earns billions in Chinese revenue.
Kanter has been outspoken in the past, calling for the release of prisoners in Turkey, the country in which he was raised. He has called Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a fascist and “the Hitler of our country,” and was sued by Erdoğan in May for his comments. His Turkish passport has been revoked, and Turkish prosecutors have called for his extradition.