Celtics center Enes Kanter was doing an interview with MSNBC Monday morning when he received a phone call from an official of the Canadian government.
“I’m like, ‘Oh my god. I got to call them right back,’ ’’ Kanter told the Globe Monday evening.
The news was positive: Kanter would be permitted to travel to Toronto for Boston’s noon Christmas Day game against the Raptors. Since signing with the Celtics this offseason, Kanter had been collaborating with American and Canadian officials so he would be able to safely travel to Canada this season.
What was his reaction when he finally got the word?
“I was numb,’’ Kanter said. “I’m finally going to be able to leave the country and step outside of America. It feels kind of weird. Even when I FaceTime my friends outside of America, it feels weird. Now, I’m going to step outside of America.’’
An outspoken critic of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Kanter has felt unsafe to venture outside of the United States. As a member of the Portland Trail Blazers last season, he stayed back for the team’s March 1 contest at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena. As a member of the New York Knicks earlier last season, he skipped the league’s annual London game in January.
Kanter was optimistic this season would be different. But he wasn’t going to be surprised if he had to remain behind.
“I’m used to not getting out of the country,’’ Kanter said. “Of course, I wanted to go out there and play, but, I’m like, ‘Oh, it’s just another game I’m missing.’ It’s sad, but like, of course, the Celtics and America put my safety first.’’
In Toronto, Kanter doesn’t plan to do anything other than play in the game and stay in his hotel room. He’s nonetheless excited for the opportunity to compete on Christmas Day. His availability will provide a boost for the Celtics, who are without centers Robert Wiliams (left hip bone edema) and Vincent Poirier (right pinkie fracture).
The game also marks an important step in Kanter’s fight for freedom. Earlier this year, he penned an op-ed for the Globe that detailed his activism and why he chooses to continue to speak out against Erdogan.
“We’re accomplishing something,’’ Kanter said. “Now, foreign governments are involved. I think it’s a huge thing. That shows how much support I’m getting from not just in America but outside of America. The whole Canadian government is now behind me.’’
Kanter said he hopes to return to Canada during the offseason to host one of his free basketball camps. (This past summer, he hosted 50 free sessions for children and teenagers across the country.) He doesn’t plan to travel to other foreign countries, however, until he becomes an American citizen in June 2021.
In the meantime, though, he’ll continue to raise awareness for human rights, democracy, and personal freedom.
“Whatever happens, I’m not going to back down from what I believe in,’’ he said.