Enes Kanter, a man without a country, calls Boston home

Enes Kanter, a man without a country, calls Boston home
Brian Babineau/ NBAE / Getty / Mary Schwalm / Boston Herald / Double Clutch illustration – Matthew Wellington

Despite missing much of the season so far and seeing his minutes shrink on his return, Boston Celtics big man Enes Kanter still feels at home.

The win streak might be long gone and his playing time diminished, but Kanter isn’t especially worried about it. Sitting for almost all of the 10-game stretch of victories, Kanter returned to action against the Dallas Mavericks, playing just five minutes, after a knee contusion in the season opening loss to the Philadelphia 76ers kept him out for seven straight games. 

On some nights he was back to normal levels of playing time, logging 13 points and 9 boards over 25 minutes in the team’s next tilt against the Washington Wizards. In others, just five minutes and almost no impact on the game.

For a player who has recently, openly criticised coaches over losing playing time, you’d think it a prelude to problems for the Celtics. But it seems the Turkish big man is quite happy in his new home of Boston, where his high-profile media personality is being embraced by local media and politicians alike.

Perhaps best known for his activism fighting human rights abuses in his native Turkey and dabbling in pro wrestling, Kanter is ready to be known as a Bostonian, and hopefully soon, a US citizen.

The Turkish big man has dealt with a host of issues due to his criticism of Turkey’s autocratic leader, many hitting close to home via harassment of his family still in the country. In some cases, the Zurich native has even been targeted directly, with the Turkish government seeking to extradite Kanter for his ties to political enemies of the Turkish president.

He’s even recently started producing his own show with local sports outlet NBC Boston. But more than anything, he wants to help his team with his larger-than-life voice even when the match-ups don’t make sense for his skillset.

“We are not going to win 82 in a row,” explained the Turkish center, via Boston.com’s Thomas Stackpole.

“Everybody knows that. So whenever things are going wrong, it’s very important to be that guy who brings positive energy, who is good in the locker room and lifts people up and tells them to learn from their mistakes and keeps things moving forward.”

On a team with seven first-year players, there’s going to be a lot of mistakes, a fact not lost on former number-three pick. “It is especially important with the rookies, and we have a lot of them. I’m trying to help them as much as I can.”

Kanter is settling into his new home alongside the rooks, taking in the greater Boston area while looking for hints of his native Turkey where he can. “I always wanted to come to Boston,” the 6’10 big man offered.

“It has people from all over the world from different cultures, food from all over the world. It is a very international town.” The history of the city as one of the nation’s earliest landing pads for immigrants still holds true today, making it a little easier to find Turkish comfort food than in some NBA cities.

Kanter’s history of activism has complicated the center’s love of food from his native country, though he’s found ways to cope with the controversy his political stances have stirred up. “Wherever I go, even places we go on road games, the first thing I do is look for Turkish restaurants,” he noted.

“But I can’t go to every Turkish restaurant, because I don’t know if they are going to be on my side or if they are pro- [Turkish President] Erdoğan. So I send my friends there first to see if it’s okay for me to go or not.”

Kanter has had several run-ins with Erdoğan supporters who have harassed the big man for his politics, and understandably would prefer to avoid more when possible. The outpouring of support from area politicians and peers alike in response to such incidents did not go unnoticed by him, either.

“Joe Kennedy texted me, Elizabeth Warren’s office, Ed Markey tweeted something. I heard from senators, representatives, teammates, coaches, and fans. I was like, ‘Wow, this is so special, because I am not from here, I am from Turkey’, but all of this support made me feel like this is my home.”

The outspoken center has already become attached to Boston despite the dearth of playing time he’s dealt with since injuring his knee, and has shown he can contribute to winning against opponents where his size and skillset make sense. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be abandoning his roots, or fighting for those who cannot leave Turkey as he could.

“I have a hope. And you have to live with that hope,” Kanter said (via Vox’ Jen Kirby), discussing whether he’d ever return to Turkey. “And you and you can never lose hope. I know that one day I’m going to be able to go back to my country, see my family again, eat my mom’s food, my favorite… but you cannot lose hope… I’m trying… to talk about all these issues so my country will get better one day.”

Whether or not Enes puts down roots in Massachusetts may depend as much on his success with the team as it does with his own definition of it, but for now, the big man has finally found a place where he fits in, unrestrained voice and all.