NBA commissioner denies league blackballed Enes Kanter Freedom; says Colin Kaepernick comparisons 'unfair'

Silver called comparisons between Freedom and Colin Kaepernick 'completely unfounded and unfair'

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says Enes Kanter Freedom has not been blackballed from the league for speaking out against the human rights violations in China, according to a report.

Freedom spent years criticizing Turkey, where he grew up, before setting his sights on the NBA for its business relationship with China. During an interview with the New York Times that was published Thursday, Silver said the NBA's position on China has not changed.

Silver also denied that the league blackballed Freedom, saying he was free to speak his mind. Silver called comparisons between Freedom and Colin Kaepernick – who accused NFL owners of colluding with each other to keep him out of the league over his protest during the national anthem – "completely unfounded and unfair."

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Nov 28, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter (13) gestures as he reacts to an officials call against Toronto Raptors in the second half at Scotiabank Arena.

Nov 28, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter (13) gestures as he reacts to an officials call against Toronto Raptors in the second half at Scotiabank Arena. (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

"We spoke directly about his activities this season," Silver told the Times, "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."

Freedom said that Silver mischaracterized their conversation, but he failed to offer specifics as to what was inaccurate about the commissioner's account.

The NBA star, who has been the most outspoken player on geopolitical issues concerning China’s human rights abuses as well as Tibet, Hong Kong, and Taiwan’s fight for freedom, added "Freedom" to his legal name last year. He has worn sneakers promoting his own geopolitical initiatives and claims the NBA players' union tried to get him to stop wearing the shoes. 

"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," Freedom told the Times. 

Sep 27, 2021; Canton, MA, USA; Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter (13) during Celtics Media Day in Canton MA.

Sep 27, 2021; Canton, MA, USA; Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter (13) during Celtics Media Day in Canton MA. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

Earlier this year, the Boston Celtics traded Freedom to the Houston Rockets, which promptly waived him. He hasn't played in an NBA game since Feb. 8 and remains unsigned. In his final appearance for the Celtics, facing off against the Brooklyn Nets, Freedom scored seven points and nabbed 12 rebounds.

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"It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize why I got little playing time and was released," Freedom said. "But it does take people with a conscience to speak out and say it’s not right."

Amid the criticism, Silver said the NBA wants to normalize relations with China, arguing that "virtually every major U.S. company" does business there. 

"Why is the NBA being singled out as the one company that should now boycott China?" Silver said. 

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - FEBRUARY 15: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks to the media during a press conference at the United Center on February 15, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - FEBRUARY 15: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks to the media during a press conference at the United Center on February 15, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

The NBA recently pulled business out of Russia over the invasion of neighboring Ukraine. Silver argued Russia was different from China because the U.S. government implemented an economic boycott of Russia. 

"It’s very difficult for the league to practice foreign policy," Silver told the Times. 

Freedom grew up in Turkey and officially became a U.S. citizen in November. He has long made waves with his public pronouncements, previously being disowned by his family in 2016 due to his support for Fethullah Gulen – a Turkish religious cleric living in exile in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.

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Last year, Freedom told "The Story" that even if much of the professional sports world remains uniformly silent on Chinese human rights abuses and other allegations against the Communist leadership there, "someone has to do it."

Fox News' Brian Flood and Ryan Gaydos contributed to this report