Enes Kanter Freedom on Basketball, Integrity, and Patriotism

How a Former NBA Player Is Taking On the Chinese Communist Party

Heritage Explains

Enes Kanter Freedom on Basketball, Integrity, and Patriotism

Heritage Explains: China | Bonus Episode

On this week’s bonus episode, we feature an interview from the Kevin Roberts Show, a conversation with former professional basketball player for the Boston Celtics, Enes Kanter Freedom. Among other things, his upbringing in his native Turkey, Chinese influence in the NBA, his activism against it, and his hope for America. 

Mark Guiney: Welcome back to another bonus episode of Heritage Explains. We're looking forward to bringing you a new series starting on June 7th, but in the meantime, we're bringing you some great conversations from The Heritage Foundation on the topic of our recently completed series on the Chinese Communist Party. This week we've got something truly special for you. Our president, Dr. Kevin Roberts, hosts a weekly podcast, the Kevin Roberts Show, in which he interviews some of the most interesting and influential people in the conservative movement.

This is one of our favorites, Dr. Roberts conversation with former professional basketball player for the Boston Celtics and Enes Kanter Freedom. Among other things, they discuss his upbringing in his Native Turkey, Chinese influence in the NBA, his activism against it, and his hope for America. As always, thanks for listening to Heritage Explains. If you've got any feedback, send it our way at [email protected], and we hope you enjoy this conversation with Enes Kanter Freedom.

Dr. Kevin Roberts: Welcome back to the Kevin Roberts Show. You are used to my visiting with friends who might be elected officials. Some of them like me, might run other conservative policy organizations. We don’t always get the opportunity to have someone who is a professional basketball player, and in addition to that a human rights advocate. It is such a treat to sit here with one of my new friends in the Nation’s Capitol, Enes Kanter Freedom. As a lifelong Celtic’s fan that’s fun, but far more important than that, all kidding aside, what Enes does for human rights around the world is really courageous, and I am so glad you’re here because Heritage will always stand with you with your prayers.

Kanter Freedom: I know. I appreciate that. No, thank you guys so much for having me. I appreciate that.

Roberts: You’re a busy guy. You travel the country, you travel the world, and you made time for this. You’re going to make time at any point that Heritage wants to help you with your platform, and on behalf of the millions of people who benefit from your work, thank you.

Kanter Freedom: I appreciate that. That was a very nice opening speech.

Roberts: So no more speeches for me.

Kanter Freedom: Okay.

Roberts: This is all about you. I just want to start with your story. I’m familiar with it. I know many if not most in the audience are familiar with it. But one of the things we try to do on this show, Enes, whether it’s you as the guest or someone who’s a US senator or a governor, is get at why they’re motivated to do what they do, and you’ve got a really important thing that you’re doing with human rights. So why?

Kanter Freedom: I will just start with my childhood actually. Everything started with a promise. So I’m not sure how much you guys know what’s happening in the Middle East, especially in some of the countries. So I remember growing up in Turkey, it was a very difficult time for my country. And so if you are a politician, a lawmaker, a president or whoever, prime minister, if you want to be elected again, you do two things. You attack America and you attack Israel. So I remember growing up, it was all over the TV, right, about propaganda against the West, against Israel, towards Jewish people, towards Christian people. So I remember I’m nine years old, I went downstairs to play with my friends, which they’re nine years old too. And the reason I’m given these numbers, because I just want you to see how crazy it is. So I went downstairs and what I saw it shocked me so bad I still remember.

I went downstairs and my friends were burning flags. They were burning American flags. They were burning Israeli flags, and they were actually breaking crosses. So I asked one of my friends, I was like, “What are you guys doing?” They was like, “Well, that’s what we see on TV, the Americans are evil. The Jewish people are devil, the Christians are whatever, bad people.” And I was so shocked. So they gave me a flag and a lighter to burn it. So I took it. I looked at it, for some reason I just got so scared. So I threw it down. I ran upstairs to my mom. I was like, “Mom, my friends are telling me to burn flags. They’re telling me American peoples are evil. Jewish people are devil. Christians are horrible people. What do I do?” My mom said, “I’m not going to tell you what to do, but do not hate anyone before you meet them.”

So that day I give a promise to my mom, “I’m not going to hate anyone. I don’t care how good, how bad or whatever I see on TV.” So eight years later, when I’m 17 years old, my dad sent me to America to get my education and play basketball at the same time. And I landed for the first time. I’m so excited but at the same time, I’m so nervous, I just don’t know what to expect. So I remember having a conversation with my teammates for the first time, and they told me, “Oh, let us take you to a mosque and let us get you some halal food.” And I promise you I turned around and left the locker room. Yeah, because I just didn’t know what to expect. And I remember going to my first Shabbat dinner and one of my friend invited me, which I did not know she was Jewish, but I would not maybe have become friends with her because of what I’ve seen.

So first, obviously I said, “No.” Then I remember the promise that I give to my mom. I was like, “Okay, you know what? I’m coming.” So I called one of my Turkish friends who lives in America. I was like, “If you don’t hear from me for the next two hours, I promise you call the police. I’m going to this address.” So that day, it was a beautiful Shabbat dinner. I had an amazing time. I was like, “The food is the same, the music is the same, everything is the same.” So I’m like, “Why this fight?” So that day I was like, “You know what? I’m going to make every young kid and every youth in the Middle East know that what they are learning, what they grew up in is wrong.”

Roberts: And the current, now longtime leadership in your native country of Turkey is a real problem.

Kanter Freedom: Big problem. I mean, Turkey plays a very important role in NATO in Middle East, in Europe, and I mean they are a NATO ally, but what’s happening over there it’s very sad because Turkey could have been a bridge of Islam and the West, but right now there is no freedom of speech, religion. There is no freedom of expression, movements, it’s impossible, so...

Roberts: And just highlight for the audience how that government has responded to your comments.

Kanter Freedom: Well, so till probably my second year, all I cared about was just going out, have fun with my teammates. I mean, I’m an NBA player.

Roberts: You were normal.

Kanter Freedom: Exactly. I was normal. There you go. So I was just having fun with my teammates right? So my third year, there’s a corruption scandal happen in Turkey. President Erdogan and some of his family members were involved in it. And then after that, he started to go around and putting innocent people in jail who caught him. And he was going around and put journalists in a jail, prosecutors, lawyers. And he started to go around and shutting down media outlets. And I was like, “I don’t care who you are, but if you are fighting against a free media, I’m going to say something about it.” So I put a tweet out there.

Because of the NBA platform it became a conversation in United States and Turkey. And I was like, “Even one simple tweet can affect this much from now, and I’m going to start pay attention about what’s going on in my country more.” So I started to study, started to read. I remember my friends were going out, I was coming back home, just started to study about the relationship between America and Turkey, what’s happened in Middle East? And the more I studied, the more news outlets started to give me a platform. So I started to speak up. So the things I talk about really affected me and my family. My dad was a scientist and he got fired from his job. My sister went to medical school for six years. She still cannot find a job till this day. And I think the saddest one was my little brother because he wanted to be like his big brother, become an NBA player, basketball.

NBA was his dream. But because of the same last name, he was getting kicked out on every team. So they started to get affected so much they had to put a statement out there and said, “We are disowning Enes publicly.” Actually, the letter is still out there on the internet. So the Turkish government didn’t believe that. They sent police to my house in Turkey, and they raided the whole house and they took every electronics away, phones, computers, laptops, iPad, because they wanted to see if I am still in contact with my family or not. They couldn’t find no evidence, but they still took my dad in jail for a while. But we put so much pressure from lawmakers in America and media to Turkey they had to let him go. And then they revoked my passport. They put my name on Interpol lists. So until this day, they still consider me as an international criminal. So they actually tried to kidnap me, Indonesia, they arrested me in Romania. So once I got my green card, they said do not leave America till you become a citizen. So five years later I become a citizen.

Roberts: And that part has worked out really well.

Kanter Freedom: Yes, very. Of course.

Roberts: What’s the best part of America for you?

Kanter Freedom: It’s so funny because I want to give an example of some of my teammates actually. So after I become a citizen, right, I am in a locker room with my teammates and we are talking about America, why we have so much problem here. This is going on, that is going on. America is the worst, blah, blah, right? So I stopped them for a second. I was like, “When the season is over,” it was around three months left. “I will buy your ticket and let’s go to some of the countries out there like China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba.” I can go on and on. There’s another 60 countries that in my head I can...

Roberts: Unfortunately.

Kanter Freedom: Exactly. I was like, “Let me see if you can even put a tweet out there. Just a simple tweet that criticize the government or the regime or the president or whoever.” My manager’s wife is Turkish, and her dad liked one of my posts on Twitter, not a retweet, not a [inaudible 00:10:48]. He was in jail for 13 days by liking my post. Just think about this. And this is Turkey. I’m not talking about China, Iran, Russia.

Roberts: Well, which believe it or not are worse.

Kanter Freedom: It’s way worse. Yeah. So I was telling them, “Listen, you guys are very blessed and very lucky to be in a country like this.” And I’m not saying America’s perfect. Obviously every country has its own problem, but we are glad this is not China or Iran.

Roberts: Yes. And there is in spite of the warts in the United States, there’s great hope. There’s a path ahead. We’re going to talk about that some. And I would presume Enes, even as it relates to Turkey, especially if we think about the post Erdogan future, that there’s hope there too far more unfortunately than there is in Iran or China in particular.

Kanter Freedom: Turkey’s a NATO ally. And so even when I have a conversation with some of the lawmakers here, it’s so hard for them to take any kind of actions like they’re taking against Russia or China or Iran because it’s a NATO ally. And Turkey was a democratic country before Erdogan. And I believe after Erdogan, it’s going to go back to being Democratic again. But right now it’s so hard because there’s no freedom of speech. No free media journalists. Turkey actually is one of, I think, top three country in the world that put the most journalists in a jail.
Think about it. You got China, Russia, Turkey. So no, whenever I speak up about my country, people think I don’t like my country. People are wrong. I love my country. I love my flag. I love my people. You look at all my interviews, all my op eds, everything I have write so far in my whole life, I never talk about politics. I only talk about two things, political prisoner and human rights violations. That’s it. Because I don’t care which party you vote for or whoever you cheer for, you have to care about human rights.

Roberts: Yeah. These things transcend party politics in every country. And I’m glad you said what you said about your love for Turkey because it’s apparent to anyone who has followed you for several years that your zeal for human rights, your zeal that you use to criticize the Erdogan government, comes from a very deep love for your people and for Turkey. And we would want that to be true for every human being on the planet about their native land, right?

Kanter Freedom: That’s the reason I haven’t seen my family 10 years now, just because I want to fight for freedom and democracy in my country. Think about it, 10 years. Show me what another person could do this for their country. It’s hard.

Roberts: No, it has to be. It has to be. And that’s one of the reasons when you and I first met about a year ago, we were both talking at separate times, I think to the Republican Study Committee in the House.

Kanter Freedom: Yeah, RSC.

Roberts: And you did a wonderful job, of course. And I told you, I said, “Always count on Heritage to help you out.” So I just want to get back to year three when you were in the NBA and you’re having this discovery, and you put kind of the fun times of the NBA behind you, and you’re taking the role you have more seriously, the role as someone who can speak out. At what point did you say China has got to be target number one?

Kanter Freedom: Another story.

Roberts: I knew there would be another story.

Kanter Freedom: Another story. So the last 10 years, I focused on Turkey, right? Obviously my plate was full, my family’s there, so I just couldn’t really focus on other dictatorships, other regimes. So last year, last summer, actually, I’m doing a basketball camp in New York. It was a beautiful basketball camp. After the basketball camp, all the kids just lined up front of me, and I remember I took a picture with this kid, and his parents actually called me out in front of everybody and said, “How can you call yourself a human right activist when your Muslim brothers and sisters are getting tortured and raped every day in concentration camp in China?” And I’m still smiling for the camera. I heard that. I’m just shocked because the media is there, parents, kids, everyone is there. So I turn around to the parent. I was like, “I promise I’m going to get back to you.”

So that day after the basketball camp, I canceled everything. I went back to my hotel. I start to study about what’s going on. The more I study, the more I realized the Uyghurs are not the only one. You have Tibetans, you have Hong Kongers, now you have Taiwanese people, Mongolians, [inaudible 00:15:29]. So yeah, all these people, right, their rights have been abused under Chinese government. So obviously on internet you can find all kind of news. You don’t know which one to believe or not. So I called my manager. I was, “I need you to find me a concentration camp survivor.” So he found me one. It was a lady. So I sit down with the lady and I started to have a conversation. We had one hour conversation, and she was telling me about all the torture methods, all the gang raping. She was telling me about the organ harvesting.

I don’t want to go in details because I don’t know if the kids were watching it. I don’t want to go in details. So after our conversation, I was like, “Okay, you got me. How can I help?” She said, “I’m good. I don’t need your help.” So I stopped for a second. I’m like, “What are you talking about? So we just had this one hour conversation for no reason?” She said, “I live in America. I’m good here. I’m free here. I can do whatever I want. I can eat wherever I want. I can go wherever I want. Help the other 2 million, 3 million people that lives in concentration camp in China.” So at that moment, right, I’m like, “Oh my God.” I was very ashamed with myself. I was like, “The last 10 years I had this huge platform. I could have helped so many other people.”

But at that moment I promised myself, “Okay, now not only my home country, Turkey, but everywhere else I’m going to talk about it.” I wanted to do it in a very unique way. So when I was a kid, whenever I watched an NBA game, the first thing obviously I was watching was the shoes.

Roberts: Of course.

Kanter Freedom: I mean everyone loves...

Roberts: That’s normal too.

Kanter Freedom: Who doesn’t love shoes, please? So I was looking at the shoes. I was like, okay, what color it is, what brand, if they’re comfortable. The next day I was waking up and telling my dad, “Please buy those shoes for me.” I had this huge shoe collection when I was a kid. So I was like, “Let’s come up with this crazy amazing idea. So let’s come up with this shoes, which is non slave labor shoes,” which it was so hard to create it.

“Hey, let’s reach out to these artists around the world who has been oppressed by their governments, and let’s tell them to put all these struggles, all the stories in, all the oppressions on the shoes, and we’re going to go out there and play basketball in them.” Right? And trust me, I looked at it. There was no any kind of rule against it, because three years ago when we were in the NBA bubble, all this players were putting on their shoes, Black Lives Matter, Breonna Taylor.

Roberts: Whatever their cause was.

Kanter Freedom: Exactly. So if that is okay, I hope that mine is okay too. That’s a free speech, and mine is a free speech. So we come up with these ideas. I wanted to do the topic Tibet first because I didn’t want people to think, “Oh, he’s Muslim. He only supports Muslims.” I was like, “You know what? I’m just going to do Tibet.” And I grew up as a huge Dalai Lama fan, and I think his message is beautiful.
I’m giving you a long answer.

Roberts: No, this is why we have the show.

Kanter Freedom: Okay.

Roberts: Don’t shorten it. Keep going.

Kanter Freedom: Okay. Okay. So first game, you’re a Celtic’s fan, right? Think about this first game is against New York Knicks, the rivalry.

Roberts: This is serious business.

Kanter Freedom: Exactly. At Madison Square Garden, it’s opening night for the Knicks and it’s a national TV game. The whole world is watching, millions of people. I was like, “It’s a perfect game to do it. The most famous arena.” No offense to Celtics fan, but obviously Madison Square Garden is the most famous arena. So there’s all this...

Roberts: I’ll begrudgingly give you that.

Kanter Freedom: Okay. So there’s all the celebrities, right? Obviously you see all the celebrities, owners, GMs, everyone, fans. So I put the shoes on. I went out there, I’m warming up, and all my teammates are looking at my shoes, because Tibetan flag is very colorful flag.

They’re like, “We have never seen this type of shoes before. What is it?” I was like, “You’ll find out soon, don’t worry.” So we sang the National Anthem. We came in a huddle. The game hasn’t started yet. There’s two gentlemen from the NBA came to me. They were working for the Celtics, and they said, “Take your shoes off. Go in the locker room, change your shoes and come back.” I was like, “Excuse me, what are you talking about?” He said, “Your shoes has been getting so much attention internationally.” Obviously it was from China. The game hasn’t started yet. Think about it. Somehow they have seen my shoes on while I was warming up and called the Chinese government, and Chinese government called the NBA back during the warmups. They said, “You cannot play with the shoes.” So I was like, “Am I breaking any rules?”

They said, “No, but we are getting so much pressure.” So it was the perfect moment because I was just getting ready for my citizenship test, right? So this is what exactly what I did. I closed my eyes. We are in the huddle. It’s like one minute left till the game starts. So I closed my eyes. I was like, “Okay, there are 27 amendments. My first amendment, freedom of speech. I was like, I’m not taking them off. This is my freedom of speech.” So they actually threatened to ban me. I was like, “Go tell your boss, even if I get fine, I’m not taking them off.” They said, “We are not talking about a fine, we’re talking about getting banned.” I was like, “Okay, I’m not doing it.” So the game started, right, which I played every game before that game, but that game, somehow they didn’t need me.

So the first half, I went back to my locker room. I had thousands of notifications in my phone, like Twitter, Instagram, phones, missed calls, messages. So I clicked on the one that my manager sent me. He said, “Every Celtic’s game is banned in China.” I’m sure. I mean, the audience is a basketball fan. So there is 12 minutes in the first quarter, 12 minutes in the second quarter. So it took 24 minutes to China ban every Celtic’s game on television. And they didn’t hide it. They made it publicly. So that game, I played zero minutes. We lost the game.

Roberts: Clearly there was a correlation.

Kanter Freedom: Yeah, exactly. So after the game, the whole world is calling me. I was getting the interview request from every outlet in the world. I’m talking about even India, the countries that I have never given interview before, Middle East, so many different places.

I told my manager, “Cancel everything.” I didn’t want my teammate to think I’m doing this for attention. So NBPA called me, the Player Association, which I give thousands of dollars every year to protect my rights against NBA. They said, “You cannot wear those shoes ever again, NBA has been pressuring us so much.” “Am I breaking any rules?” They said, “No.” They pressured me so much. You got to a point. I was like, “You know what? I promise you I’m not going to wear free Tibet shoes ever again. They said, “Promise?” I said, “Promise.” I hang up the phone. So the next game, I wore free Uyghur shoes. So they called me after...

Roberts: I love the way you operate.

Kanter Freedom: I mean, I’m not lying. So they called me after the game. They said, “You were a liar. You lied to us, you trick.”
I was like, first of all, I never said, I’m not going to wear free Uyghur shoes. I just said, “I’m just not going to wear free Tibet shoes.” So at that point, they understand that they’re not going to be able to handle me. So after the third game, actually, we had a conversation with Daryl Morey. He said, “Listen, man,” when I stand for Hong Kong, when I tweeted, NBA messaged me. I said, NBA pressure me to took my tweet down, put some...

Roberts: This is the general manager.

Kanter Freedom: This is the general manager of Houston Rockets. They wanted me to put things out there which I didn’t want to put. “So you don’t delete your tweet down. You take your tweet. Just keep doing what you’re doing.” So at that moment, I was like, “Wow, I cannot believe that NBA says that they care about free speech, but behind curtain, this is what they’re doing.”

Roberts: And it’s such hypocrisy.

Kanter Freedom: Exactly. And they were the first organization when all the protests were happening, they said, “Oh, we care about this. We care about that.” I was like, “Okay, this is another human rights issue, care about this too then.” After the second or third game, one of my teammate walk up to me and said, “This is your last year in NBA, right? I was like, “How?” They said, “You talk about Nike, you talk about China, you’re not going to be able to dribble a basketball ever again on this court.” I was like, “Okay.” My agent called me. He said, “Listen, I work for for you. I don’t work for the NBA, so I have to be honest with you. You say another word about China, we are not going to get another contract, and that is going to cost us between $40 to $50 million.” I said, “Okay.” I hang up. I just keep doing what I’m doing.

Roberts: God bless you. As this is so true for so many naturalized citizens. Y’all make such great Americans because you remind those of us who had the privilege of being born here, why our country exists, and what we need to be standing for. And of all of the people to criticize, first of all, starting with the Chinese Communist Party and massacring Muslim Uyghurs and others, the thing sitting here in Washington, DC in my lane, which is focused on policy, the effect of what the NBA did towards you and just giving a pass to the Chinese Communist Party has actually had a really good effect that they didn’t intend. It has motivated, not just you, but a lot of policy makers in this city to finally confront China, and that’s awesome. And Enes, you initiated that.

Kanter Freedom: No, I’m glad finally is happy to. I’m glad finally they’re being exposed, because they had to. I mean, look at TikTok, look at NBA, look at Hollywood, look at Wall Street, look at academia’s, big tech, farmland, and I can just go on and on. So America has to wake up before it’s too late.

Roberts: Do you think since you persisted in those early days of protesting China and the NBA, that you’ve seen America turn the corner toward a greater recognition of the problem?

Kanter Freedom: Yes, 100%. I mean...

Roberts: So...

Kanter Freedom: Go ahead.

Roberts: What do people need to do? People listening or watching this conversation, what can we do to help?

Kanter Freedom: I mean, people are always coming and actually telling me, “Hey, I’m not an NBA player. I don’t have the platform. What can I do to help? I want to help.” It’s actually very simple. Say you go somewhere, right? You’re going to go to a shop or you’re going to buy something online, whatever, do all the research. You pick up an item and you see made in China, put it down. It’s literally that easy. You don’t have to have millions of followers on Instagram. You don’t have to have this and that. I mean, this is the least you can do. Just pick up an item made in China, put it down. It’s literally that easy. So because I was even telling my teammates, I’m like, “Listen guys, the shoes that you’ve been wearing is made by slave kids.”

So in sweat shops there are kids between, I believe seven to 18 who work 16 hours a day, six times a week. So whenever I was telling this to my teammates, they was like,” Hey, man, just join me.” Not only my teammates, because it was a perfect moment, because it was right before the Beijing Olympics. So the whole world is talking about it. So I try to reach out to everyone, NBA, NFL, MLB, MLS, NHL, WWE, actually everyone. Forget about Olympians. I was like, “Listen, join me. Let’s create a movement. Let’s stand because this is not political issue. It doesn’t matter. You’re from the right. You’re from the left, you’re a Democrat, you’re Republican. Who do you work for? Because this is a human rights issue. It’s above politics.”

They all say the same thing. They say, “Listen, man, I think what you’re doing is so amazing, keep doing what you’re doing. We love you. We support you, but we just cannot do it out loud.” I asked them, “Why?” They said, “Well, we have shoe deals, endorsement deals. We want to get that other contract.” I asked them one simple question. I was like, “Put yourself in their shoes. If your mother, if your sister, if your daughter was in those concentration camps, getting torture and gang rape every day, would you still pick money over your morals, values and principles?” They usually turn around and leave the room. They cannot answer that question.

Roberts: You’re not just outspoken, but you’re substantive in your diagnosis of the problem of human rights violations around the country that you’re active in policy circles, not political circles to your earlier point, to the point that I made about running into you in the capitol last year. Do you have confidence in American policy makers in both parties? This has got to be a bipartisan effort in order to win.

Kanter Freedom: Exactly.

Roberts: Do you have confidence that in the near term, in the next year or two, that they are going to pick up this mantle as policy makers and change policy as it relates to China?

Kanter Freedom: I mean, I think so, and I hope so. Because it is going to be too late when they realize how dangerous the Chinese government is. We have no problem with Chinese people. We love Chinese people.

Roberts: This is about the Chinese Communist Party.

Kanter Freedom: Exactly. That’s what I’m trying to tell people. This is about Chinese Communist Party. I mean, look, TikTok, right? I was so happy when they invited the CEO of TikTok and they were grilling him, and they should. I mean right now, 150 million people in America is being brainwashed by Chinese Communist Party, and especially the kids. So when I heard that, I was like, “You know what? I’m going to buy a second phone.” Because if you have a phone and if you download TikTok, that means every conversation, every data goes through Chinese Communist Party’s computers. So just know that. So I bought a second phone just to download TikTok. So I downloaded TikTok. I start posting things about their human right abuses. I promise you, in one week they banned me. So when I heard that they were going to have a hearing with the CEO of TikTok, I texted one of my congressman friend. I was like, “Can you please ask him this question?” He said, “I got you.” Right?

While he was asking the question, China unbanned me on TikTok. Think about it. He hasn’t finished his question yet, but I wanted to record everything so I screen recorded everything because I knew this was going to happen. And so right after that, I believe Washington Post did a whole investigation and TikTok said, “Yes, we banned Enes, but it was a mistake or it was a error on our computers.”

Roberts: It’s always a mistake, right?

Kanter Freedom: Always mistake. So this is only one thing. But people needs to realize, man, before it’s too late, because this is getting dangerous and dangerous.

Roberts: So couple final questions before we wrap up, but we want to have you back. No, really. As I told you, you’re...

Kanter Freedom: For sure no, for sure. I appreciate that.

Roberts: You’re one of the great American patriots of this generation. How do you keep not just a level head because you’re a calm guy, but you’ve got this natural optimism in spite of a lot of people criticizing you. I want people in the audience to be inspired to have your courage. And a lot of people don’t want to do that because they’re afraid of the risks. What’s the lesson? What advice do you give them?

Kanter Freedom: I think the one thing that I always live by is, “It doesn’t matter what your religion is, your skin color, your culture, whatever you believe in or your background, the most important thing in life is leave your differences on the table and try to find what we have in common, because we only have one world to live.” Till one of those crazy billionaires find another planet, this world is what we have. So we have to make this world better together. This is our home and we are all teammates. It’s a huge team. So we got to do whatever we can to make this world better together, make this country better together by not selling our country to China’s Communist Party, which is the biggest threat in our world right now. I mean, look, what is the latest. Look at NATO and now all the dictatorships are aligning.

They just had the BRICS. I’m sure you know the BRICS, Brazil, Russia, Iran, China, and South Africa, and I’m sure so many other dictatorships are going to join. So we have to wake up before it’s too late. Like I said, “Again, this is a bipartisan issue. This is above politics,” because China is trying to invade America from the inside because they know they’re not strong enough to invade America from the outside by taking over Wall Street, farmland, academia’s, big tech, NBA, Hollywood, giving billions of dollars to these people or companies or CEOs. I ask one simple question to our audience, when Russia is invading Ukraine, all these CEOs, companies, everyone pulled up their business with Russia, right? If God forbid China ever to invade Taiwan, how many CEOs, athletes, companies will speak up about it?

Roberts: Too few. Too few. I ask that question a lot, and you may know this. I think some of our audience members will on the matter of China. Just recently Heritage, and by that I mean almost everyone in Heritage was involved in this. We released what I think is the most significant research paper we’ve ever done, and that is an indictment of China’s influence in the United States. And beyond the indictment, what the solutions are legislatively, what Congress needs to do, what state legislatures need to do?

And I say that really not even to make the plug that people need to read that as much as to say this. I think there’s a silver lining in all of this, because any of us who wake up in the United States, whether we were born here or not, regardless of the color of our skin, religion, party affiliation, we know that the United States is not as strong as it once was, and one of the reasons we’re not is because we don’t have any longer that cohesive, unifying topic.

Kanter Freedom: Right.

Roberts: Well, guess what that is? The Chinese Communist Party.

Kanter Freedom: Exactly.

Roberts: And I just know that from history, when Americans are united across the political spectrum on some threat that transcends even our ability to flourish, we do really well.

Kanter Freedom: No, it is a biggest threat, man. It still messes with my mind. I remember first time I started to talk about the problems that are happening in China. I had a conversation with someone from the government. He said, “Just keep it secret who I am,” so I’m just going to keep it secret. So me and him sit down, right? He said, “Look me in the eyes.” I looked at him. He said, “I’m going to tell you what’s going to happen for the next six to eight months.” I was like, “Okay, what’s going to happen?” He said, “You will be getting DMs, phone calls, messages, WhatsApp calls from one of the most beautiful girls in the world. Do not answer any of them. They’re Chinese spies.” I was like, “Oh my God, that messes me up so much. Now I can’t even...”

Roberts: That’s tough advice to hear.

Kanter Freedom: Yeah, I can’t even talk to anyone. So if someone messages me or try to talk to me, I’m like, “Hmm, are you a spy? What are you trying to do?

Roberts: You have to think twice about everything.

Kanter Freedom: Exactly. Look at spy balloons, look at TikTok and stuff. So people, parents, everyone needs to wake up before it’s too late. So that’s what I’m trying to say.

Roberts: So what’s in the future for Enes Freedom?

Kanter Freedom: Good question. Well, I wish I could say basketball.

Roberts: I do too. I wish you could say that.

Kanter Freedom: Yeah, I’m 30 years old, man. I’m healthy. I can go out there and dunk the ball, break the rim right now, but I feel healthy. I feel good, but I don’t think there’s going to be any basketball for me in the future.

Roberts: That’s got to be hard.

Kanter Freedom: We talked about maybe Europe, but that is tough because Turkish government put a bounty on my head. So many of my friends in America don’t want me to stay in a country for more than three days, unless it’s America. So I don’t think it is going to be any basketball in Europe. So I feel like basketball chapter is closed now. Many of my friends are telling me to get into politics. So I think that’s what I am looking to do. But the only sad thing is you have to wait seven years to run for an office after you become a citizen.
I got four more years left.

Roberts: Yeah. Okay.

Kanter Freedom: So I think 2028 is my year, I believe. So I’m just going to go out there, because whenever I sit down with this politicians, both sides, Democrats and Republicans, they’re like, “Listen, you need to bring your voice in our capital. I think it will be an amazing voice because you stand for the right things. You stand for the things that both sides will care.” And that is the only message I believe that can bring two sides together. Human rights and freedom.

So that’s what I’m looking to do. So for the next four or five years, I’m just going to continue to do what I love, just use basketball as a tool to bring people together. I organize these basketball camps around the world. Two of them I organize. One was in Jerusalem, other one is in Vatican. After having a conversation with the Pope, it was an amazing experience. I had a basketball camp in Vatican. So for the next four or five years, I’m just going to try to educate and inspire the youth. And then in 2028, I’m just going to run in a state where it’s warm and sunny. So...

Roberts: There’s a hint.

Kanter Freedom: Shout out to Florida.

Roberts: Okay, and you haven’t mentioned party affiliation, and I’m not going to ask you about that ‘cause I can’t as a nonpartisan institute, although we’re of course unabashedly conservative. That’s not a partisan statement. So therefore I can encourage you to do that because I think that we need thoughtful voices across the political spectrum regardless of party affiliation. And I just want to thank you once again.

Kanter Freedom: Of course.

Roberts: And encourage you for everything you’re doing. Keep smiling, keep charging hills. You do know that the American people are with you.

Kanter Freedom: Of course. No, it gives me so much hope whenever I walk on the street and there is this America which I’ve never seen before, white, Black, whoever, it doesn’t matter, just screams my name and say, “Freedom or Mr. Freedom.” That gives me so much hope. Whenever I go to these basketball camps or arenas and whenever I hear people are screaming, chanting, “Freedom, Freedom,” right? This is all about. So I think we have an amazing message. I’m saying we, because we are in this together, so we have an amazing message where we just have to protect our rights and just go out there and just smile. That’s it.

Roberts: Great way to end this conversation. Enes, thanks for taking the time to do this.

Kanter Freedom: Thank you for inviting, man. It’s an amazing honor to just sit down and talk to you guys.

Roberts: You’re welcome back anytime.

Kanter Freedom: Thank you.

Roberts: Thanks for joining this episode of the Kevin Roberts Show. Obviously that was a special treat for all of us. I hope you take it as a shot in the arm to maybe be even more patriotic. But most of all, to be more hopeful about self-governance, about freedom, about human rights in this country and abroad. Take care. In the meantime, we’ll see you in the next episode.

Heritage Explains is brought to you by more than half a million members of The Heritage Foundation. It's written and produced by Mark GuineyLauren Evans, and John Popp. Production assistance by Alexa Walker and Jeff Smith