When you think of great NBA stories, you think of guys like Jimmy Butler, DeMar Derozan, or a guy like LeBron James. People that went from nothing to everything—all because of their dominance on the basketball court. Those superstar players and their stories are the reason the NBA is the best sports league in the world (yeah, I said it.) Watching those players play while also trying to relate to them through their past experiences is an amazing feeling, but I’m more interested in talking about the unsung heroes of the NBA. Not the coaches, not the GMs, but the players behind the scenes that we don’t talk about as much. Most often, these guys come from Low D-1 colleges or played a few years in Europe so aren’t as flashy as any of these other guys in the league. Today, we’re going to talk about the amazing story of current Celtics big man: Enes Kanter.
Enes Kanter was the 3rd overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft; a draft that saw five all stars and multiple hall of famers get picked up but at the time Kanter wasn’t a bad pick. The 2010 Utah Jazz finished 11th in the western conference after a poor 39-43 season. The team was led by star point guard Deron Williams who was coming off of a career high 21 points per game (6 years later he’d be out of the league at 32 years old), a 26 year old Al Jefferson (who also only had a few more good years in the league), and a 26 year old Paul Millsap. While the team had just drafted center Derrick Favors the year before, Utah’s front office wanted Enes to solidify their bench depth.
Next year, the team would barely make the 8th seed and squeeze into the playoffs with a 36-30 record in what was the 4th ever NBA lockout season (a year in which the season gets postponed due to disagreements between players and owners). That year, we saw a semi-breakout season of Gordon Hayward (who averaged a solid 12 points a game coming from his measly 5 point average as a rookie), and the production of future all star forward Paul Millsap. The Jazz would get swept 4-0 to the Spurs in the first round but the future looked bright in Salt Lake City, but let's talk a little about Kanter’s pre NBA life.
Kanter was born in Zurich, Switzerland, but his family was from Turkey, so they moved back once his father, Mehmet, got a job. Kanter played for Turkish basketball club Fenerbahce as a kid and later moved into the senior team. Before moving to America and playing high school ball, Kanter received 33,000$ from Fenerbahce in total benefits. Kanter destroyed people in high school and topped it off at the annual Nike Hoops Summit—a game which showcases NBA prospects against each other—finishing with a whopping 34 points and 13 rebounds. That game solidified Kanter as one of the best NBA prospects at the time. He verbally signed to be a Washington Huskie, but later backed out and officially committed to the University of Kentucky. It seemed to only be the beginning for Kanter in the college scene until the NCAA ruled him ineligible because of the cash benefits gifted by his former team. Kentucky appealed to it but it was at no avail so the Turkish big had to sit on the sidelines for his entire college career.
Even though he couldn’t play college, Kanter got drafted at the third overall slot and was a high prospect throughout the scouting process. Teams knew about his work rate, so Utah wanted to give the man a chance. It took Kanter three years to really make an impact on the NBA court. In the 2013-14 season, Kater made a jump from 7 points a game to 12 points a game only to get traded a year later to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Jazz eventually traded Steve Novak, Kanter, and a first for some second round picks, Kendrick “Big Perk,” Perkins and rights to a random EuroLeague player. This pick boded well for all parties as Utah didn’t want to pay Kanter and OKC wanted a backup big man for Steven Adams. Kanter would play another 26 games in the 14-15 season averaging an amazing 18.7 points and 11 rebounds in what was probably the best stretch of his NBA career. Kanter and Adams would soon become best friends in the league and everybody knew it. After a few great years in OKC, the “Stache Bros” (Kanter and Adams’ elite tandem nickname), would finally be split up as Kanter was the big piece in the disappointing Carmelo Anthony trade to New York in the 2017-18 season. Enes had some fun at MSG, but was released in the 2018-19 season due to his massive 18.6 million dollar contract. Kanter then moved to Portland and ended up helping them after the horrid injury of Jusuf Nurkic (thank god he’s back and playing great again). After that great playoff run, Kanter would sign with the Celtics to be a backup to Al Horford…..Oh wait I mean a backup to Daniel Theis (wishful thinking I guess).
I know you’re probably reading this right now and saying to yourself, “Hey Max, why should I read a 5 minute article about this slightly above average NBA player?” BUT HAVE NO FEAR, I will tell you. Kanter’s life story goes way beyond NBA basketball. His life is a story of rebellion, sticking up for the little guy, and activism. Since 2013, Kanter has been very outspoken against Turkish president/dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Erdoğan has been a controversial ruler in Turkey. He’s made freedom of religion a more popular thing in Turkey (which many people agree with), but has also done problematic things, like said women are lesser to men. He has also threatened to eradicate social media in Turkey entirely. As one of the most popular Turkish celebrities since coming to the NBA, Kanter has always attacked Erdoğan for his blatant sexism, racism, and xenophobia. This has come at quite a cost for Enes, but he’s continued to do it anyway.
Every day since about 2013, Kanter has received hate messages and death threats from Turkish citizens attacking him for doing what’s right. In 2017, while Kanter was having a basketball camp in Romania, he was given notice that people were trying to attack him and his passport was blocked. He was stuck in Romania for quite some time before traveling to many other European countries to hide from the Turkish government. Since then, Kanter hasn’t traveled out of the country in order to keep himself safe. When the Knicks traveled to London in 2018, Kanter was told not to go in light of people threatening to kill him if he ever came to Europe. Later in 2018, Enes’ father, Mehmet ,was sentenced to prison for 15 years for ‘being part of a terrorist group’ (which almost directly means “Being Enes Kanter’s father), but was thankfully released on June 19th, 2020.
Although Kanter may not be LeBron James or Steph Curry, he is a leader in his own way. Fighting for freedom and doing what’s right, no matter the consequences, is always the right thing to do. Kanter has said many times that he won't “be silenced over Turkey,” (CNN) and he will continue to fight til something has changed. Kanter is both a fighter on and off the court.
If you like more in depth, personal articles like this. Make sure to leave a like and comment. You guys have been amazing, I’ve been Max. Thanks to everybody for taking the time out of your day to read this!