When the Portland Trail Blazers signed Enes Kanter they didn’t just get a good scoring big man to come off the bench. They also a put themselves in the middle of fairly complex international situation. We have already detailed Kanter’s complicated relationship with the government of Turkey, his home country. The situation caused Kanter to miss Portland’s game in Toronto last month, and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has recntly taken up Kanter’s cause.
On Sunday morning, ESPN’s E:60 aired an extensive report titled “Enemy of the State” detailing Enes Kanter’s relationship with the Turkish government. The report puts Kanter’s conflict with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in context. It walks through key events in Turkey’s recent history including a corruption scandal in 2013 and a failed coup attempt in 2016. President Erdoğan blames both events on his former ally Fethullah Gülen, who Kanter supports. E:60 uses archive news footage and current interviews with experts in Turkish politics to help make a complicated situation understandable.
In addition to interviewing Kanter, Jeremy Schaap and other E:60 producers traveled to Turkey to interview Hedo Turkoglu. The former NBA player now works as an adviser to President Erdoğan and released a statement critical of Kanter in January. It is the first time Turkoglu has been on camera speaking about the situation. In it, Turkoglu reiterated his, and his government’s, stance on Kanter:
In a write up about the E:60 report for ESPN Front Row, Molly Mita spoke to producer Nicole Noren, who traveled to Turkey for the interview. Noren discussed how Kanter is viewed in his home country:
“The most surprising aspect of this story to me was the drastically different way Enes Kanter is regarded in America versus his home country. He is widely held up as a human rights defender in America, but in Turkey, no one wanted to even say his name,” Noren said. “As you’ll see in Schaap’s interview with Turkoglu, even though he was once Kanter’s teammate on the National team, he was visibly uncomfortable discussing Kanter.”
According to Noren, Turkoglu wasn’t the only person who was uncomfortable speaking publicly about Kanter.
“It was clear to us that many people, including those who don’t support [Turkish President] Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have very complicated opinions about Kanter. And that’s because Kanter’s spiritual mentor, Fethullah Gulen, is a polarizing figure in Turkey,” Noren said. “Kanter is arguably the most well-known Turkish NBA player in the world right now, but there are no billboards of him selling shoes. No advertisements on buses. In fact, it was only on our last morning in town, the day after the Feb. 7. NBA trade deadline, when we finally saw a mention of him. It was a small headline in the Daily Sabah, a newspaper often regarded as pro-government: “FETO TERRORIST ENES KANTER IS SACKED BY THE NEW YORK KNICKS.”
E:60 also includes interviews with Kanter, who talked about how he looked up to Turkoglu as he grew up and played with him on Turkey’s national team in 2011. Kanter discussed the difficulty of being unable to return to his homeland:
I mean, Turkey is my country. You know, it’s my flag. That is where we’re raised. ... My family is born there. So that’s why, like, it’s tough to see that ... your country don’t want you. People say, “Where are you from?” What should I say? “Turkey?” No. They don’t even want me there.
You can check out the entire E:60 report here (TV provider sign in required). Nicole Noren also published a corresponding article. ESPN will be re-airing the report Sunday night at 10:00pm (PST) on ESPN 2, and it is available to stream on the ESPN App.