This winter, Enes Kanter Freedom is making and losing friends at a record clip.
The former Trail Blazers center has long been an outspoken political voice, decrying the authoritarian regime of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in his Turkish homeland. But in recent months, Kanter extended his criticism to China’s human rights record, added the noun “Freedom” to his surname, and claimed the NBA was blacklisting him to protect its Chinese market. (He was indeed traded and waived, though whether that was a result of his political statements or his poor pick-and-roll defense is a matter of debate.)
The result: Kanter is now the darling of many in the Republican Party who want a hardline policy on China and believe the NBA’s indifference to the plight of China’s Uyghur minority shows liberal hypocrisy.
Since the Boston Celtics traded him earlier this month to the Houston Rockets, who promptly cut him, Kanter Freedom has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill, meeting GOP lawmakers.
He also bumped into an old pal: U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
Wyden played a key role in elevating Kanter Freedom’s political stature. In 2019, he asked the U.S. State Department for help in making sure Kanter Freedom, then a Blazer, wouldn’t be deported to Turkey if Portland played international games. (At the time, the player’s plight was a natural cause for Democrats, since then-President Donald Trump was flirting with Erdoğan.)
In Wyden’s recent appearance on WW’s podcast, we asked him if the two had stayed in touch as Kanter Freedom won favor among conservatives.
Wyden said the two had run into each other “a couple of times in the Senate corridors” last week.
“Enes is a really idealistic young guy,” Wyden said. “He cares very deeply about human rights. He knows that I feel very strongly about fighting for human rights in China.”
Wyden says the two pledged to sit down for a chat soon.
“I think we’ll have a good conversation,” Wyden told podcast host Hank Sanders. “I look forward to talking with him. I’m glad that he’s keeping his idealism, and I sure don’t take a back seat to anybody in terms of being tough on China.”