WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CN) – Sitting on the same sofa where he watched his teammates lose by a point the previous night in London, Turkish Knicks star Enes Kanter opened up about why he missed the big game – a story he wants to share with Sen. Lindsey Graham.
“First, I would talk to him about the issues in Turkey and then, just meet him and talk about what’s going on, talk about my experiences and share my own personal stories,” Kanter said in an extensive interview on Friday from the lounge of his apartment building.
With their star center an ocean away, the Knicks squandered a one-point lead at the buzzer to the Washington Wizards at a matchup in London on Thursday night. Kanter skipped the game after the Turkish government put out a red notice and sought his extradition and prosecution.
“I put on my jersey because I still wanted to feel like I’m part of the team,” the 6-foot-11 basketball player recounted, arriving for the interview in a Knicks shirt.
On Friday, Graham arrived in Turkey to see the man threatening Kanter’s freedom: Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has accused the basketball player of being a terrorist tied to the July 2016 coup d’etat attempt in Turkey.
Cheekily rebuking the allegations, Kanter tweeted a video of himself dunking with the message: “The only thing I terrorize is the rim.”
Since well before the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Erdogan’s government has been pushing President Donald Trump and his allies to pull out of Syria and extradite his biggest enemy: Fethullah Gulen, an imam living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.
Erdogan blames Gulen for the coup attempt, and Kanter, a devoted follower of the cleric, was with him on the night that violence in Turkey left more than 250 people dead. Both deny any role in the aborted putsch, and Kanter said that the real reason Erdogan’s government wants him is to silence a prominent critic.
“Turkey’s the number one country in the world that, after the coup attempt, put the most journalists in jails,” he said.
Graham’s Turkey summit fell a day after President Trump cancelled Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s trips to Afghanistan and Brussels, where she planned to meet with NATO commanders.
Speaking of Graham, Kanter said: “I would just tell him about how Erdogan uses power to abuse human rights in Turkey and freedom.”
“Because if you look right now, there’s no democracy there or freedom – or freedom of speech,” he continued.
Back in the U.S., Congress members from both sides of the aisle have been meeting with Kanter. Republicans who made time for him include Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New York Rep. Lee Zeldin, and Oklahoma Sen. James Langford, whom Kanter met during his time playing for the Thunder.
Kanter also has spoken to powerful New York Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, ranking House Foreign Affairs Committee member Rep. Eliot Engel, and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a rising star in the party.
“It just made me so happy that they’re aware of what’s going on in Turkey,” Kanter reflected of the meetings.
Most of them told him: “Any way we can help, let us know, and we will do anything to help you,” he added.
Sen. Graham's spokesman and the Turkish embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to email requests for comment Friday evening.
Look for the extended interview next week…
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