LONDON — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday that the safety and security of players will always be paramount for the league after New York Knicks centre Enes Kanter did not travel to London for his team’s game against the Washington Wizards.
Kanter said he feared he could be attacked or killed over his opposition to Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan if he were to travel to London. Istanbul-based newspaper Daily Sabah reported that an arrest warrant was issued for Kanter by Turkish prosecutors on Wednesday.
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, the safety and security of our players, and so we take very seriously the threats that 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."
The Daily Sabah reported that Turkish prosecutors are seeking an Interpol "red notice," which is an international request for arrest and extradition, for Kanter, who was accused of membership in a terror organization. He was said to have provided financial support to exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has been blamed by the Turkish government as being responsible for a failed coup in Turkey in 2016.
The Associated Press has been unable to independently verify those reports.
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 U.S."
Kanter, who has frequently criticized Erdogan, 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 U.S. citizenship or a U.S. 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, Romania, 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.
Turkey has insisted on numerous occasions that its detention of academics and activists for allegedly supporting anti-government protests, which have intensified following the failed coup, are an important part of its fight against extremist groups.
"Erdogan is doing whatever he can, such as using institutions like the Interpol to execute his brutal international policy of persecution against his critics, including abductions and kidnappings of innocent Turkish people living abroad," Celine Assaf Boustani, an international lawyer at the Human Rights Foundation, told The Associated Press. "Interpol should reject Turkey’s request to issue a red notice arrest warrant for Kanter and uphold its constitution, which strictly forbids Interpol to undertake any politically motivated intervention or activity."
Kanter, who had played in every Knicks game this season until missing the last two with an 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."