“Morals over Money,” is how Enes Kanter Freedom put it best after talking to The Sports Rabbi about why he was in the Holy Land promoting peace among the religions.
The former Boston Celtics big man has definitely done exactly that by being outspoken about a myriad of topics after being banned by his homeland of Turkey. Kanter was at the Jerusalem YMCA where he took part in a Peace Camp together with Tamir Goodman which featured children from the three major religions in Israel, Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
Kanter, who is not on an active NBA roster for the upcoming season has been recently obtained American citizenship which he describes as the perfect complement to his current endeavors where he added the word “Freedom” to his name.
“That word “Freedom” means the world to me. After water and food, freedom is the best thing that we can have. Without freedom you are not a complete human being. Just going out there and sharing that beautiful message about how important freedom is to kids is to me the most important thing,” Kanter explained.
The camp which is a partnership between a number of organizations, including Bnai Zion, Athletes for Israel and Together – Vouch for Each Other welcomed the center for the second day of programming by having the children from as Kanter questions about his life, his thoughts challenges and of course basketball.
“I have been planning this basketball camp for years now. It was always in my head that I wanted to go to a place where there are all of the religions combined and so many differences but they co-exist at the same time. I think that the most beautiful place right now is Israel. There are so many different backgrounds, so many different colors, religions and cultures but they are all in the same place. I wanted to do a basketball camp in this country to bring kids from all of these backgrounds to learn from each other. They can learn how to share, how win together and how to lose together and communicate together. That was my main goal and we accomplished that.”
Kanter, who was selected 3rd overall at the 2011 draft by the Utah Jazz has played for five NBA franchises was traded back in February of 2022 to the Rockets but was soon thereafter waived by Houston and has not played since. While commissioner Adam Silver has stated that he had made it absolutely clear to Kanter that he was within his rights to speak out on issues that he was passionate about, there still is a feeling that he has been shutout by the greatest league in the world due to his stances on China.
However, this trip to Israel is a much larger in terms of a basketball career Kanter explained, “This is bigger than myself, this is bigger than basketball and bigger than the NBA. To put a smile on a kid is priceless. I wanted to do it here because this is one of the most holiest places on earth. I always wanted to come here. I was hearing from my friends all of the time as to how beautiful this country is and I wanted to come and witness it myself and I am glad that I did. You always hear about the so many conflicts that are happening in the Middle East all the time. I think that if we have to educate our kids playing on a basketball court right now and we invest and make some kind of sacrifices, we will have a better and brighter future.”
Kanter who dreamed of being an astronaut growing up played his first game in Los Angeles against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers and was pleasantly surprised when the the late superstar remembered a young Turkish player years prior, “He remembered my name because he had visited Turkey and he had seen me play so that was really nice.”
He also spoke about Israeli sensation Deni Avdija who is entering his third NBA season with the Wizards, “I remember the first time playing against him in Washington, at halftime I told him represent your country, there are so many people watching you.
While Kanter is still proud of his own country of Turkey, he says that there is no freedom of speech which has left him persona non-grata in the eyes of the current government. With a number of security guards following this every step, it’s clear that the basketball star needs to be under constant surveillance in order for him to get his message across. A message that many NBA players agree with but won’t publicly support due to contracts with shoe companies and the like.
“Our main message is peace and it doesn’t matter what political party you are cheering for or what your agenda is,” Kanter insisted. “You have to support this because we are all cheering for peace. Coming here and sharing this message with kids and teaching them how important unity is and peace is and love is. I think that this is priceless. Seeing Muslim kids sharing the ball with Jewish kids and Jewish kids sharing the ball with Christian kids, I can’t describe in words, it’s very emotional.”
As Kanter continues his critical crusade of peace, his true message is one that hopefully will inspire many of those in attendance, “It doesn’t matter what you religion, background or skin color is, most important thing in life to me is leaving your differences on the table and trying to find what you have in common. We only have one world and this is the world that we have and we have to make this world better together, that is the key word, together. It doesn’t matter if your Christian, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, it doesn’t matter. When I look at a person I see a human.”
However, his final thought certainly was most important of all, “To be a successful athlete you have to listen to your mother first.”