Beijing took no time to act after Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter posted a video on Twitter describing Chinese President Xi Jinping as a “brutal dictator” and calling for the independence of Tibet.
China’s video-streaming giant Tencent shut down the live broadcast of the game Wednesday between the Celtics and New York Knicks, the Washington Post reported.
In his video, Kanter, who grew up in Turkey, spoke for more than two minutes in support of Tibetan independence.
Dear Brutal Dictator XI JINPING and the Chinese Government
— Enes FREEDOM (@EnesFreedom) October 20, 2021
China seized the mountainous region in 1950 after four decades as a de facto independent state.
China Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin was asked about Kanter’s remarks at a news conference Thursday.
The NBA player is “clout-chasing, trying to get attention with Tibet-related issues,” Wang said.
“Tibet is part of China,” he continued. “We welcome unbiased friends upholding objectivity across the world to Tibet. In the meanwhile, we never accept the attacks and smears on Tibet’s development.”
Kanter also has spoken out against Turkish authorities, prompting Turkish intelligence agents to seek his arrest, according to his manager.
The Chinese Twitter-like platform Weibo is suspending updates on the Celtics, according to a Celtics China fan account, the Post reported.
The NBA has been widely criticized for making apologies to the communist regime to protect its lucrative relationship with China’s massive market.
In 2019, Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey provoked Beijing’s wrath when he expressed support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Morey, who now is with the Philadelphia 76ers, issued an apology along with the NBA.
The Tweet was taken down, the Rockets issued a statement distancing themselves from the sentiment, and the league was in full damage control mode. James Harden praised the NBA’s relationship with China, and other players were backing the party line. The league worked hard behind the scenes to repair its relationships with the nation. It wasn’t enough. The NBA lost sponsorships and deals in China, and NBA games were taken off state television in China (and only just returned for the Finals, they are still on for the start of this season). Overall, the Tweet likely cost the NBA $400 million.
The storyline promoted was Morey didn’t really understand the situation and know what he was doing before he touched the third rail of Chinese politics.
Morey did know. He understood the situation on the ground very well because of friends in Hong Kong.
Later that year, German soccer star Mesut Ozil, whose family origins are in Turkey, criticized China’s oppression of Muslim Uyghurs in an Instagram post. His English club, Arsenal, distanced itself from his comments, and China erased him from its video apps and internet forums.
Morey told ESPN last December he was “very comfortable” with the statement he made in support of the Hong Kong protesters. But he said he was “extremely concerned” about his family’s safety, and he thought at one point that the tweet might end his career.
“You don’t want the second-most powerful government on Earth mad at you, if you can avoid it. In this case, I couldn’t,” said Morey, who now is the 76ers president of basketball operations.
In the Tencent Sports app, upcoming NBA games are marked for live broadcast, except the games for Kanter’s Celtics and Morey’s 76ers, which will be reported by text and photo, the Post reported.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged in an interview with Time in April that the league’s “most significant television partner is Tencent,” which serves “hundreds of millions of fans in China.”
He said a “so-called boycott” of China based on “legitimate criticisms of the Chinese system” would not “further the agenda of those who seek to bring about global change.”
“Working with Chinese solely on NBA basketball has been a net plus for building relationships between two superpowers,” he said.