The NBA’s feel good road trip hits a political speed bump.
The National Basketball Association is going to London, England and bringing with it a game, the New York Knicks and the Washington Wizards players are supposed to entertain a crowd in a festive atmosphere in the league’s only London appearance this year. But real world politics has gotten in the way of the fun. The New York Knicks Enes Kanter is not going to London because he fears Turkish spies may want him and there is nothing that NBA security can do to protect him. Kanter is a critic of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and is afraid that he would be killed if he travelled to England. Kanter claimed he received death threats in 2016 by publically supporting Erdogan’s political rival. Kanter was detained in Romania in May 2017 and had his Turkish passport taken away from him. In 2018, Kanter’s father, a college professor, was indicted by Turkish authorities for being a member of a terrorist organization.
The NBA, along with the National Football League and Major League Baseball is testing London as a market. It is all fun and games for the leagues. They send teams to perform before people willing to spend big money on what really is inconsequential entertainment. Neither the NBA nor Major League Baseball will put a team in London but the NFL has stated its intention of being a permanent presence in the city and having a team in London eventually. Whether Kanter’s situation impacts the NBA, NFL or Major League Baseball is unknown but more than likely for league purposes, it is an isolated situation. But the Kanter situation should remind the league’s commissioners, owners and players that sports is just a brief escape from reality and that the world goes on. Officially, at least in sports parlance, Kanter is missing the London game because of visa issues. A nice way of describing the problem.