NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday that the safety and security of players will always be paramount for the league after New York Knicks center Enes Kanter did not travel to London for his team’s game against the Washington Wizards, The Associated Press reported.
Kanter said he feared he could be attacked or killed over his opposition to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan if he were to travel to London.
Silver said NBA officials never suggested that Kanter skip the game but understand why he chose not to travel.
“There are significant issues that he is dealing with, and I recognize that for the NBA, by virtue of the fact that we’re a global business, we have to pay a lot of attention to those issues as well,” Silver said. “I will say there’s nothing more important to me, as the commissioner of the league, than the safety and security of our players, and so we take very seriously the threats he has received, [even if] it’s just people on social media.
“Again, I support Enes, a player in this league, and I support the platform that our players have to speak out on issues that are important to them.”
A Turkish court on Tuesday requested that Interpol issue a Red Notice for Kanter on allegations of membership in a terrorist organization due to his close connections to Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.
Turkey accuses the network led by Gülen of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt, although Gülen strongly denies any involvement.
Kanter said Wednesday on Twitter that the Turkish government could not present “any single piece of evidence of my wrongdoing” and that he doesn’t “even have a parking ticket in the US.”
Kanter, who has frequently criticized Erdoğan, has had his Turkish passport revoked. He noted in an op-ed he wrote for The Washington Post earlier this week that he does not yet have US citizenship or a US passport — either of which would offer him greater legal protection.
He learned of the cancellation of his Turkish passport on May 20, 2017, when he was detained in Bucharest upon returning from a trip to Indonesia to run a basketball camp for his charitable foundation. He was later granted safe passage to London before returning to the United States.
Kanter, who had played in every Knicks game this season until missing the last two due to illness, is averaging 14.4 points and a team-high 11 rebounds.
Several of his teammates were reluctant to address the situation when asked before the Knicks’ practice on Wednesday, though forward Kevin Knox called it “unfortunate.”
“Obviously, we miss him, but that’s a decision that we respect and understand and we’ll be happy to see him when we get back,” coach David Fizdale said.
Meanwhile, Silver, speaking ahead of the ninth regular-season game in London, said the NBA is considering moving the game to Paris next year.
“I’m told I’m not allowed to break news today, but yes, it is possible,” Silver said, smiling. “Paris has traditionally been a very important market for the NBA … and we’re looking forward to coming back to Paris.”