Former NBA star Enes Kanter Freedom — who famously amended his name after becoming a US citizen in 2021 — is officially a wanted man. Not only is his name on 2023’s most-wanted terrorists list, but this is the first time his former country has actually placed a published bounty on people’s heads.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government is offering up to 10 million Turkish Lira, or roughly $500,000, for information leading to the capture of Freedom, who said he found out about it a week ago.
“That makes it so dangerous,” Freedom, 30, told The Post. “Before the bounty, Turkish intelligence were after the people on the list, but now everyone is after them because they want the money.”
He also revealed that he is looking into suing the NBA — “I’m waiting for the right time” — which Freedom claims has blackballed him for his public protests against China.
During 11 seasons in the NBA, Freedom was known for his outspokenness, including against the Turkish government’s human rights abuses. He has called out Erdoğan for being a “dictator,” stepped on a photo of him at a protest, and even dubbed him the “Hitler of our century.”
“Because of my platform, whenever I say something, it goes everywhere and the Turkish government hates that,” Freedom said. “They’re really sick of it, and they said ‘enough is enough’ and are doing whatever they can to shut me up.”
The athlete’s name appears on the Turkish Terrorist Wanted List along with actual terrorists and fellow dissidents critical of the Erdoğan regime, which has routinely defied international human rights law. The list also names more than a dozen journalists — part of a larger assault on the free press in Turkey, where the number of jailed journalists has doubled in the past year.
Although Freedom, who now lives in Washington, DC, admitted the bounty ups his personal security concerns, he said is in constant contact with local law enforcement and the FBI.
“I’m being protected 24/7,” he said, adding that he is more worried for the safety of the lesser-known Turkish dissidents on Erdoğan’s list.
“I’m speaking out because I am not the only one on that list,” Freedom said of the bounty. “There are so many journalists, so many activists, and so many athletes, but they aren’t as well-known as me. They are way easier targets — and they’re alone out there.”
The Swiss-born, Turkish-raised, American citizen has played for the New York Knicks, the Boston Celtics and other teams during his time in the NBA.
But he caused a rift in the league — which pulls in billions of dollars in revenue from China via nearly half a billion viewers — when he became an outspoken critic of Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party.
He’s also been critical of Nike — a major NBA advertiser and player sponsor — for its manufacturing deals in China.
Freedom became known for wearing sneakers with messages like “Free Tibet,” “Free Uyghur,” and “No Beijing 2022,” painted by dissident artists, during games and has said he was pressured by the league to take off his shoes and keep his mouth shut.
His refusal to do so led to a tiff with NBA star LeBron James in 2019.
“I tweeted that Hong Kong should be free. [Then] Le Bron said he is not educated enough about the situation [to comment on it] and that what I tweeted hurt the league,” Freedom told The Post in 2021. “It’s sad that these players are social justice warriors, but, when it comes to China, they are scared to say anything … Your values are more important than any money you can ever make from China.”
Now, Freedom says he’s been blackballed by the NBA. After being traded to the Houston Rockets from the Boston Celtics in February, he was quickly dropped. He averaged 11.7 minutes, 3.7 points and 4.6 rebounds last season.
“The NBA is never going to admit it, but I believe I’m being blackballed,” he told The Post. “I’ve had many conversations and everyone is saying the same thing: ‘Your career has ended because of your China comments.’”
Now, Freedom is “waiting for the right time” to sue the league.
“They are a 100% American made organization, but they are being controlled and run by the biggest dictatorship in the world, China,” he said. “How can China fire an American citizen from an American organization? That is unacceptable.”
The Post has reached out to the NBA for comment.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver, speaking with the New York Times this past March, denied that Kanter is being blackballed.
“We spoke directly about his activities this season,” Silver said at the time. “and I made it absolutely clear to him that it was completely within his right to speak out on issues that he was passionate about.”
Since leaving the NBA, he is running interfaith basketball camps for children to foster unity and has been traveling the world to meet with leaders as a human rights activist.
Although 2023 is the first year Freedom appeared on the Terrorist Wanted List, his conflict with the Turkish government is ongoing. Leaders revoked his passport in 2017 and requested an Interpol “red notice” — asking law enforcement worldwide to arrest pending extradition — in 2019.
His father, Mehmet, was jailed in Turkey, and the family was forced to disown Freedom for their own safety, the athlete said. It’s been nearly 10 years since he spoke to them—and yet they are still being harassed back in Turkey, according to Freedom.
“My dad went to a market, and people spit on his face,” he said. “And my mom can’t walk outside freely because she gets harassed.”
Freedom said he hopes to call attention to the Turkish government’s cruelty.
“I really want to show the world what kind of person Erdoğan is. Western leaders are not doing enough. They’re playing softball with this dictatorship,” Freedom said. “Diplomacy is important, but on the other side of the world people are losing their lives, their homes and their loved ones.”