Enes Kanter left no room for doubts on where he stands regarding the issue of China’s treatment of its Uyghur ethnic minority. The outspoken NBA player, who has used his platform to speak up against social and political issues in the past, called for Nike to do more to influence China and, what many experts are calling, its reported genocide of the Uyghur people.
Kanter has spoken about the topic more generally in the past, but Nike and LeBron James have been caught in the crosshairs of his series of Tweets this time around. The Boston Celtics star urged Nike to use its global influence to end the use of slave labor in China, going so far as to invite Phil Knight, LeBron James (who was previously criticized for refusing to take a stance on the China issue), and Michael Jordan to fly to China with him to inspect camps that Kanter claims to use “modern-day slavery.”
In his video, Kanter said: “Nike remains vocal about injustice here in America, but when it comes to China, Nike remains silent. You do not address police brutality in China, you do not speak about discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, you do not say a word about the oppression of minorities in China, you are scared to speak up."
Kanter’s posts used the hashtags #HypocriteNike and #EndUyghurForcedLabor. In addition to his tweets, the Turkish basketball player wore a pair of customized Nike Air Jordan 11 Lows in his team’s game on Monday night. The customs featured the words "Modern Day Slavery" and "No More Excuses" written on them.
According to the US State Department, up to two million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have been detained in internment camps in Xinjiang since 2017. The NBA, like much of the Western world, has a difficult relationship with China, stemming from the fact that the country’s population offers huge revenue and growth potential for many brands and companies.
The NBA’s Chinese relationship was strained in 2019, when then-Houston Rockets GM Darryl Morey offered comments in support of democracy in Hong Kong, during a time when there were riots and protests against Chinese control and overreach into the politics in Hong Kong. China pulled NBA games off of its state television in response.
Many felt that the NBA’s lackluster response in defense of Morey was due to the fact that the league and its players did not want to strain the China relationship further, putting money ahead of social issues. That stands in stark contrast to the strong BLM stance the league has taken since the George Floyd shooting last year.
LeBron James also came under fire for his comments relating to Morey’s statements, with some people pointing out the same hypocrisy that Kanter has in his latest video.
Making matters even trickier, reports emerged last July that the NBA’s youth academies in China were subject to allegations of abuse of young players by local staff and harassment of foreign staffers in Xinjiang.
Neither LeBron nor Nike has responded to Kanter yet. Stay tuned for more.