Enes Kanter speaks at 2018 Muslim Student Association Banquet

NBA player discusses religion, social activism and basketball

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Knicks center Enes Kanter’s uses his NBA platform to do more than play basketball.

He speaks against political leaders, such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for his actions as leader of Kanter’s native country.

At the Muslim Student Association’s annual banquet on Saturday at Banchetti by Rizzo's, Kanter discussed his NBA experiences in relation to being Muslim and why his faith is so important to him.

Kanter advocates for human rights and free speech, despite being labeled as a dangerous figure in Turkey. Kanter is vocal in his support of Muslim communities in America and how basketball can be used as a tool for change. Kanter is one of just 12 Muslim NBA players.

Kanter is wanted for arrest in his home country of Turkey.

“Respect, together, live, love: those are the key words in my life,” Kanter said. “It’s been a really rough year for my country and what they’re going through. I was doing my charity work around Europe, and in Romania the Turkish embassy cancelled my passport. When you say the right things, not everyone is going to like you. In my country I talked about equality, freedom of speech and staying humble, but sadly my country did not like that. The president didn’t like that. The one thing I believe in is always standing for what you believe in.”

Kanter opened up his speech discussing his path to America and the difficulties he initially had. Kanter had to leave his parents in Turkey to come play basketball in the U.S.

“The first day I stepped into America, it was so weird because I grew up with my parents. The only English I knew was my name and how to say I’m hungry,” Kanter said.

He cited difficulties in the difference in cultures, the speed people talked and finding halal food. After seven months in the U.S. he was slowly learning the culture but still asked questions like “When do people hide eggs?”

Kanter discussed his challenges with NCAA regulations. He was ruled ineligible to play or practice at Kentucky. He was subsequently named the youngest student coach in history as a loophole so he could practice with the team. Kanter cited his own difficulties as a student in college, mostly an art course that was three hours of reading when he thought they would be drawing ducks.

Kanter recently finished his seventh NBA season. He reflected on getting blown out by the Lakers in his first game, being traded to play in Oklahoma City with stars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant and being traded again to the Knicks while hosting a basketball clinic for orphans in the Oklahoma City area.

Kanter ended his talk and opened the floor to questions ranging from basketball to religion.

“The one thing they’re looking for is how you represent your faith,” Kanter said. “Everyday they were watching me. Everyday they were going ‘Enes is eating this, why is Enes not doing this, why is he drinking this but not drinking this.’ The most important thing is respect. I was always respecting my teammates’ faith and they were always respecting mine.”

Kanter follows the practices of the Quran and manages to eat halal and pray five times a day while playing in the NBA. Kanter joined in prayer with the MSA as they prayed before sundown.

Students asked for funny stories from his time in Oklahoma City, his favorite restaurant in New York City and his feud with Lebron James this season. Kanter had fun with the audience and asked the student to rephrase the question after the student said “the great Lebron James.”

Kanter respects the work James does for his community, but can't wait to beat him in the playoffs.

Usman Najam, a senior biomedical sciences major and president of the Pakistani Student Association, enjoyed the talk and appreciated how Kanter spoke about his initial struggles assimilating to American culture.

“If he’s able to stick to his values and represent not only our religion and culture but as an individual, then one of us can do the exact same,” Najam said. “We don’t have any excuses to stray away from what is right or what we believe is correct.”

Nathaniel Mendelson is the assistant sports editor and can be reached at nathaniel.mendelson@ubspectrum.com