The NBA is facing another incident involving China after Enes Kanter, center for the Boston Celtics, criticized the country’s treatment of Tibet.
The broadcast of the Celtics’ season-opening game against the New York Knicks was pulled by Chinese video-streaming site Tencent, while fans took to Chinese social media to denounce Kanter and the Celtics.
The website for Tencent Sports also indicated that upcoming Celtics games would not be livestreamed, rather just an interactive graphic shown instead.
On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, a Celtics fan page with approximately 615,000 followers posted that it would not be posting updates from the team because of a player’s social media oversights.
“From now on, our page will no longer report any information about the Boston Celtics, and our Weibo will stop updating!” read the post from Celtics Weibo Express. “For any behavior that undermines harmony of the nations and the dignity of the motherland, we resolutely resist!”
On Wednesday, Kanter posted a video on social media directed at President Xi Jinping and the Chinese government with the caption “Tibet belongs to the Tibetan people” calling Xi a “brutal dictator” while wearing a t-shirt featuring the 14th Dalai Lama, the Buddhist spiritual leader of the Tibetan people.
The Dalai Lama has been living in exile in India since a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 and regularly travels the world to spread his message of tolerance and peace.
“My message to the Chinese government is free Tibet,” Kanter said. “Tibet belongs to Tibetans, I am here to add my voice and speak out against what is happening in Tibet under the Chinese government’s brutal rule.”
“Under the Chinese government’s brutal rule, Tibetan people’s basic rights and freedoms are non-existent.”
Kanter followed it up with another post which said: “More than 150 Tibetan people have burned themselves alive!! — hoping that such an act would raise more awareness about Tibet. I stand with my Tibetan brothers and sisters, and I support their calls for Freedom.”
Later in the day, when Kanter’s Boston Celtics took to the court in their season-opening game against the New York Knicks, he was wearing shoes with the message “Free Tibet” on the side.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a news briefing on Thursday that Kanter was “trying to get attention” and that his remarks “were not worth refuting.”
“We will never accept those attacks to discredit Tibet’s development and progress,” he said.
Kanter’s comments come two years after Daryl Morey, the then-general manager of the Houston Rockets, sparked controversy between the NBA and China with a tweet in support of pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong. Morey stepped down a year later.
Several Chinese businesses cut ties with the Rockets as a result and the NBA came under severe pressure from Chinese authorities.
Tibet is an internationally recognized autonomous region within the People’s Republic of China, though many Tibetans dispute the legitimacy of China’s rule.
Kanter, who was raised in Turkey, has been vocal before in defense of various political causes, including criticisms of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He faced death threats and the criminal trial of his father back home as a result.