NBA denies blackballing player over China stand; ‘Freedom’ says he doesn’t feel free to play again

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Outspoken NBA player Enes Kanter Freedom suggested in a text interview this week that the NBA has been blackballing him over his anti-China activism, but critics say that he’s in denial over his allegedly subpar playing skills.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize why I got little playing time and was released. But it does take people with a conscience to speak out and say it’s not right,” Freedom wrote in a text to The New  York Times.

As noted by the Times, in recent months he’s “made headlines mostly by calling out China’s human rights abuses and ripping the N.B.A. for doing business with the country.” Moreover, his “allies” also suspect this activism is to blame.

Jeffrey Ngo, a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist in Washington, reportedly said his attacks on China “must have at least played a role” in Freedom’s fallout from the league.

On Aug. 13th, he signed a one-year contract with the Boston Celtics, yet only six months later the team traded him and two other players to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Daniel Theis. The Rockets then dropped him four days later.

The Washington Examiner notes that technically, what happened checks out.

“Freedom’s minutes had been slashed this year by the Celtics, likely due to their defensive identity (they are the second-best defensive team in the league). The Celtics also played Freedom less than his career average when he was with the team during the 2019-20 season, even before he began speaking out about China’s human rights abuses,” according to the Examiner.

And then once he did begin speaking out, the team professed to “support” his stance.

Likewise, the Rockets have been reportedly “rebuilding,” and part of that effort required offloading Theism, who was costing them $35.6 million for his contract.

The move was, according to the Examiner, nothing more than “a salary dump,” and Freedom was thus a pawn instead of someone whom the team really wanted.

“The move was a salary dump for the Rockets, who unloaded Daniel Theis and his four-year $35.6 million contract while they rebuild. Freedom, a 29-year-old center who plays poor defense, was not going to fit a rebuilding Rockets team,” the Examiner notes.

So again, everything appears to check out at first glance. But on the other hand, Freedom’s anti-China activism did draw widespread attention to the Celtics that the team may not necessarily have truly wanted:

Take note of the shoes seen above. According to Freedom, after he wore them, somebody sought to silence him. It remains unclear who exactly because he reportedly “changed” his story at least once.

“In several media appearances after that game, he said two league officials demanded that he take off the shoes, and he refused. At the Olive Tree, he changed the story, saying the officials were with the Celtics. He also said the N.B.A. players’ union separately tried to get him to stop wearing the shoes,” according to the Times.

“Freedom’s story is difficult to corroborate because he would not disclose the names of his antagonists. The union would not comment on the specifics, but said in a statement that it supported Freedom and other players’ speaking out on important issues.”

In a text to the Times, all Freedom would say was, “Instead of advocating on my behalf, I have encountered the union telling me I need to shut up and stop talking about the human rights violations in China.”

What’s absolutely clear is that Freedom is now a free agent apparently unable to secure a new contract. And this, he and his allies believe, is attributable to his activism.

But again, critics, including former NBA coach Stan Van Gundy and sports commentator Morten Stig Christensen, say otherwise:

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has for his part claim that the league isn’t blackballing Freedom.

“We spoke directly about his activities this season,” Silver said, “and I made it absolutely clear to him that it was completely within his right to speak out on issues that he was passionate about,” he told the Times.

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