Raptors Celtics Basketball

Boston Celtics’ Enes Kanter (13) moves against Toronto Raptors’ Isaac Bonga during an NBA game Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, in Boston. AP file photo

After reciting the Oath of Allegiance on Monday night, Enes Kanter Freedom pressed his hands together to show gratitude and reached for a tiny American flag on a stick, the kind sold for pocket change at Times Square tourist traps.

He smiled and waved his little flag, celebrating all the new freedoms that come with being a United States citizen.

Like his freedom to speak out forcefully against enemies abroad (the Chinese government) and domestic (LeBron James). Or the freedom to change his name, which he did in a very on-the-nose way. Or the freedom to be used as a pawn by pundits, in exchange for a few more minutes in the cable-news spotlight.

Mr. Freedom, as he now wants to be called, is an NBA player who has appeared in just 10 games this season for the Boston Celtics. He’s a benchwarmer, the third-best center on his team. At this point in his 10-year career, he’s relied on only to pull down a couple rebounds a night. In a league ablaze with star power, Freedom’s is a low-wattage lightbulb flickering in a dank basement.

But in the eyes of cable-news bookers, he’s never burned brighter.

Earlier this fall, back when Freedom was still Kanter, he made the rounds on CNN and MSNBC, which wanted him to amplify the pro-vaccination quotes he’d given to Rolling Stone magazine, and he did not disappoint. He sermonized inside an echo chamber that leaned liberal and that was more likely to have received the jab anyway, and he stayed on message as a “role model” using his platform to encourage the science.

More recently, though, he’s found a new platform with conservative talking heads. Fox News anchors know little about Freedom’s exploits on the court. But they know he is an outspoken activist willing to drag the athlete they love to hate and, unwittingly, represent the antithesis of the league whose Blackness they love to weaponize for ratings.

On Monday evening, after waving his flag trinket, Freedom’s first act as a U.S. citizen was to find a camera and sit down with Tucker Carlson. The conversation centered, predictably, on how much Freedom loves America and, gee, wouldn’t it just be swell if all Americans loved this country like Freedom does?

Freedom shared rehearsed stories about the origin of his new name — when he first came to America in 2009 he was afraid that a teammate would be arrested for speaking out against the president, but back then he didn’t understand freedom of speech — and also how Turkey had revoked his passport and sought his arrest.

“I wanted to do it because I wanted to call somewhere where I could feel like this is my home now. It is the greatest feeling that I ever had,” Freedom said, rather innocently.

Carlson gasped with forged sincerity.

“That’s just wonderful. I wish we had so many more people like you who are as grateful to be here as clearly you are,” he gushed.

Then, appearing to remember how many rich Black men are on the Celtics, Carlson furrowed his brow and quizzed Freedom: “How have your teammates responded? Do you think they’re as grateful to be Americans as you are?”

The two Proud Americans talked for over four minutes, not once addressing the elephant in the Fox News studio: that Carlson has a long history of xenophobic remarks against immigrants and Muslims, and that Freedom is an immigrant and Muslim. Neither did they seem to catch the irony in a guy named Freedom telling everyone who criticizes America to “please keep their mouth shut.” It’s surprising Carlson and Freedom didn’t end the interview with a duet of Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.”

Freedom continued his run as Fox News’s favorite basketball player on Tuesday, with an appearance on “America’s Newsroom with Bill Hemmer & Dana Perino.” To know how that went down, all you had to catch was the windup for Hemmer’s loaded softball — a master class in non sequitur journalism:

“You have been very outspoken. You’ve gotten a lot of attention in this country for how strong you have been against the Chinese communist government, their treatment of Uyghurs, their treatment of their own people, the COVID variant, et cetera, et cetera. There is one man, however, a colleague of yours who seems to lack an amount of respect from you and that’s LeBron James.”

It would be the second time in less than a week that a Fox News anchor would toss this alley oop to Freedom so that he could dunk on James, the network’s go-to sports nemesis ever since he spoke out against the previous White House administration and flipped Laura Ingraham’s “shut up and dribble” into his own pulpit for social justice.

And since the NBA has openly championed Black Lives Matter, another easy target for Fox News, these pundits enjoy casting Freedom as the rogue hero willing to speak out against a country, China, with which the league has uncomfortably close financial ties. And Freedom soaks in the attention. On their shows, his chryon reads: “NBA Star.” Because he’s the one NBA player who keeps raising his hand to share his story and also push their narrative.

Thing is, Freedom should be applauded. His fight is a righteous one, and there’s something noble in all the ways he tries to gain attention for human rights violations in Turkey and China. (He has cranked out numerous op-eds, including for this publication).

“Someone had to do it,” a self-congratulatory Freedom has said many, many times on television.

But his message gets diluted when he allows himself to be used as a prop by any cable network that calls. He’ll praise vaccines for those who want to hear it (and kudos to him for accepting social responsibility) but he’ll also propagandize ‘Merica for the itching ears who demand that, with no inkling of awareness that he’s being used.

There’s pure passion in his cause, but also the stain of self-promotion. For this reason, Mr. Freedom just might be the perfect American.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: