5 things to know about Celtics center Enes Kanter

The Celtics' new center was credited with helping Kentucky reach a Final Four even though he never played a game for the team.

Enes Kanter in 2019.
Enes Kanter in 2019. –Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Celtics added to the team’s frontcourt on Monday with the addition of center Enes Kanter. The terms of the deal are reportedly a two year contract for $10 million, with Kanter having a player option for the second year.

The 27-year-old was born in Switzerland but is Turkish. He played for both the Knicks and Trail Blazers last season, helping Portland reach the Western Conference Finals. At 6-feet-11-inches, he can be an effective rebounder, and occasionally compiles standout stat totals.

Exactly where he will fit on the Celtic’s roster remains to be seen. Here are few things to know about Kanter’s story:

The NCAA prevented him from playing for Kentucky.

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In 2010, Rivals ranked Kanter as the third overall recruit among incoming freshman, one spot ahead of Kyrie Irving. After initially committing to the University of Washington, Kanter switched to Kentucky.

A problem arose with Kanter’s eligibility, as the NCAA took issue with payments he’d received while playing for Turkey club team Fenerbahce. Kentucky argued that Kanter received the money to help with his education, but a series of NCAA rulings agreed that the total sum of money ($33,033) went beyond necessary expenses for schooling.

As a result, he was deemed ineligible and never played for the Wildcats, who lost to Kemba Walker and the University of Connecticut in the Final Four of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.

Despite not playing for his team, Kentucky coach John Calipari credited Kanter for his involvement practicing with the team that year. After Kanter agreed to a deal with the Celtics, Calipari tweeted his support:

He was drafted third overall in 2011, ahead of Kemba Walker and Kawhi Leonard.

Though he never played at the NCAA level, Kanter was still seen as a top pick heading into the 2011 draft. His performance at the 2010 Nike Hoops Summit had left an impression in the minds of NBA scouts. In the game, Kanter broke Dirk Nowitzki’s single-game point record record by totaling 34 points.

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Seen as a mystery heading into the draft, he was selected with the third overall pick by the Utah Jazz, ahead of several other notable players, including Kemba Walker (9th overall), Kawhi Leonard (15th overall), and Jimmy Butler (30th overall).

He enjoys trying to troll LeBron James.

Kanter has openly embraced competition with LeBron James over the years, even though he admitted his psychological tactics aren’t usually effective. During a game in Nov. 2017, Kanter got in James’s face to — as he claimed — support Knicks teammate Frank Ntilikina.

He tried to taunt James, but drew the ire of the superstar in the worst possible way as the Cavaliers rallied from a 23-point deficit to defeat Kanter’s Knicks. Still, Kanter has continued to try and knock James off his game.

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“I would do anything to take his focus away, distract him,” Kanter told ESPN in 2018. “People ask me, ‘Does it work?’ No it does not work. But I’m trying.”

He called the Turkish president the ‘Hitler of our century.’

Kanter has been a longtime supporter of religious cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen, who lives in the United States, is identified by Kanter as a “preacher and a scholar,” though the Turkish government sees him as the leader of a terrorist group.

In 2016, events came to a head when Gulen was blamed by Turkish leadership for orchestrating a failed coup against the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Kanter continued to support Gulen.

“Erdogan blames Gulen and his followers for the coup,” Kanter wrote in a Time magazine column in 2018. “It is a crazy claim. I was with Gulen in his house in Pennsylvania that night, and he was as shocked and fearful for Turkey as the rest of us. We spent the night praying for our country.

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Eventually, his passport was canceled by Turkish authorities while Kanter was traveling, causing his detainment for a period of time in a Romanian airport in 2017.

Kanter called Erdoğan the “Hitler of our century” in a video he posted from the airport:

Kanter was eventually released after receiving help from the NBA and the U.S. State Department, allowing him to fly back to New York via London.

Because of his clash with his own government, Kanter is ‘stateless.’

Ever since his passport was revoked by the Turkish government, Kanter has been both afraid and unable to travel outside the United States. He fears for his life.

“I just didn’t really want to risk my life by going to Europe where Erdogan’s long arms are everywhere,” Kanter told NPR in January about not traveling to Europe for a game. He also skipped a trip to Toronto in February after Turkish prosecutors issued an international warrant for his arrest.

“[This] means I am now stateless,” Kanter explained in his Time column, “and [I] pretty much can’t leave the United States.”