Enes Kanter says his basketball camp was canceled after threats from Turkish ‘goons’

The Turkish Consulate categorically denied the new Celtics center's claims.

Newly acquired Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter listens during a news conference at the Celtics' basketball practice facility, Wednesday, July 17, 2019, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Newly acquired Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter listens during a news conference last week at the team's practice facility in Boston. –Elise Amendola / AP

Enes Kanter has been hosting dozens of free youth basketball camps across the country this offseason. The Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, New York, was scheduled to host one of those clinics this upcoming Sunday. However, the recently signed Celtics center announced Wednesday night that it had been canceled — and he says the Turkish government is to blame.

In a statement, Kanter said the mosque canceled the camp due to pressure from the local Turkish Consulate in New York City, in response to the 27-year-old NBA player’s long-standing criticism of his native country’s authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kanter said the consulate “threatened” the Islamic Center and even “sent out their goons.”

Advertisement

“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,” Kanter said. “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.”

Kanter tweeted that the consulate’s actions were a “disgrace,” but said in his statement that he was “even more disappointed in the Mosque for not calling the police on these thugs.”

“Instead bowing down before this dictator and his regime, the mosque chose to cancel something positive for the kids,” he wrote.

According to Kanter, more than 300 kids in New York were expected to attend the camp, which would have been the 34th he had hosted this offseason.

Alper Aktas, the Turkish consul general in New York, categorically denied Kanter’s account.

In a phone call Thursday afternoon, Aktas confirmed that he had called the Islamic Center to “provide necessary information” about Kanter and the influential Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Kanter and his family have been outspoken supporters of Gülen and his movement, which espouses a more tolerant Islam and has been persecuted in Turkey under Erdogan, who blames Gülen followers for a 2016 coup attempt. Atkas repeatedly asserted Thursday that Kanter was a member of a “religious cult” and a “terrorist organization,” as well as “not a nice guy.”

Advertisement

The Turkish official said Kanter’s claims that the consulate threatened the Islamic Center, sent “goons,” and encouraged people from Turkey to leave threatening messages were “lies, lies, and lies.” According to Aktas, he simply raised the question to mosque officials of whether Kanter was someone they wanted to present as a role model.

“Enes Kanter is distorting the reality on the ground,” Aktas told Boston.com. “There were no threats and no intimidation.”

The Islamic Center of Long Island said in a statement Thursday morning that Kanter’s camp had been postponed due to “unforeseen circumstances.”

The statement suggested that the mosque intended to find another date for the camp. However, Kanter ridiculed their explanation on Twitter and said he would look for a new location for his camp.

Buy Tickets

“Muslims should understand we have freedom and do not need to bow to dictators,” he wrote. “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.”

Rep. Kathleen Rice, the New York Democrat whose district includes Westbury, tweeted Wednesday night that her office is working with Kanter to “find an alternative location nearby that can host his camp.”

In an email Thursday afternoon to Boston.com, the Islamic Center maintained that Kanter’s camp was “postponed and not Cancelled.”

“We will have a new date very soon,” said the email, which referred additional questions to a spokesman for the mosque.

Calls to the spokesman’s phone number Thursday afternoon went unanswered.

Kanter, who is a practicing Muslim, was born in Switzerland but grew up in Turkey.

In 2017, the Turkish government revoked Kanter’s passport and briefly detained him at a Romania airport for his political views. In January, the Erdogan government also put out an international warrant for Kanter’s arrest, accusing him of being part of a terrorist organization. The 6-foot-11 center has subsequently missed NBA games in Toronto and London out of fear for his own safety. Earlier this week, he met with several U.S. senators to discuss ways to safely travel abroad with the Celtics.

Advertisement

Kanter signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Celtics earlier this month and says he’s committed to making positive change, despite the actions of his home country’s government.

“I will remain focused on trying to create a better world and environment for the youth while these arrogant thugs try to spread their tentacles into American society,” he said in his statement Wednesday. “I hope in the future the communities in America realize they have freedom and do not have to bow down to dictatorship.”