The newest Portland Trail Blazer, backup center Enes Kanter, is a prolific scorer and an outspoken critic of the strongman president of his native Turkey, Recep Erdogan.
Kanter, whom the Blazers picked up from the New York Knicks, supports the opposition to Erdogan, who, after surviving a 2016 coup attempt, has cracked down hard on his critics, tossing them from government jobs and jailing thousands. His government also cancelled Kanter's passport, Kanter has said, and issued a warrant for his arrest.
In a piece he wrote for the Washington Post in January, Kanter expressed fears that he will be detained if he leaves the U.S.
Citing Turkish news outlets, CBS News reported in January that Turkey had issued a warrant for Kanter's address and was seeking to have him extradited to his home country.
Kanter skipped a Knicks game in London in January because of concerns that Erdogan's forces or Interpol might detain him and, last week, he skipped a Blazers game in Toronto for the same reason.
Now, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to advocate for Kanter with the Turkish government.
"President Erdogan has responded like many thin-skinned autocrats before him, by going after Mr. Kanter and his family," Wyden wrote in a March 8 letter to Pompeo. "America cannot and must not stay silent in the face of such a blatant assault on free thought and expression. This is even truer when the perpetrators of such odious behavior are supposed friends and allies."
Wyden, who played college basketball for the University of California Santa-Barbara, is an ardent, longtime Blazer fan. With the Blazers enjoying a strong season—TNT commentators Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith last night predicted the team will reach the NBA finals, because they've strengthened their bench with the recent acquisitions of Kanter and former Cleveland Cavaliers forward Rodney Hood—Wyden not only has legal and human rights reasons to support Kanter, he has competitive reasons.
"American cannot and must not stay silent in the face of such a blatant assault on free thought and expression," Wyden wrote to Pompeo. "I call on you to raise Mr. Kanter's case, publicly and in private, and to state for the record that the U.S. will not cooperate with "red notices" or extradition requests."
Kanter and the Blazers take on the Phoenix Suns Saturday, March 9 at the Moda Center.