Another day and Boston Celtics’ big man Enes Kanter goes after another Black NBA legend. This time it was Michael Jordan. In a recent appearance on CNN, Kanter blasted Jordan, saying the Charlotte Hornets chairman “has not done anything for the Black community because he cares too much about his shoe sales.”
Enes Kanter just called out Michael Jordan on CNN: “Michael Jordan has not done anything for the black community because he cares too much about his shoe sales.” @EnesKanter @Jumpman23 @Nike @KingJames @celtics pic.twitter.com/6P06F1NYD0
— New York Basketball (@NBA_NewYork) November 21, 2021
That’s quite the stinging critique from Kanter. This comes on the heels of Kanter calling out LeBron James and Nike for their silence on human rights violations in China. Kanter tweeted the phrase “Money over Morals for the ‘King.'”
Money over Morals for the “King” 👑
Sad & disgusting how these athletes pretend they care about social justice
They really do “shut up & dribble” when Big Boss 🇨🇳 says so
Did you educate yourself about the slave labor that made your shoes or is that not part of your research? pic.twitter.com/YUA8rGYeoZ
— Enes Kanter (@EnesKanter) November 18, 2021
There is a lot to unpack here.
If you wanted to make the case that Kanter’s rhetoric sounds conservative as he evoked “shut up and dribble” and referenced China as “big boss,” as some right-wing politicians have against the NBA and it’s players, maybe that’s fair. Maybe.
Many, including LeBron, have suggested that Kanter is a clout chaser. Sure, you could take that point of view if you are only looking at the surface.
LeBron and MJ are among the most famous people in the world, and Kanter is a journeyman center. But if you look deeper, you’d see that might not hold up.
Kanter was born in Zurich, Switzerland, to Turkish parents. He lived in Turkey before coming to the United States at age 17.
Since he’s been in the US, he has kept a close watch on the political and social climate in Turkey where his family still lives. He is sympathetic to a movement that opposes the current Turkish regime. In 2013 he became publicly critical of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over human rights violations.
“I hope people around the world will open their eyes to the human rights abuses. Things have gotten very bad over the last year. This is not my opinion. We don’t know everything that is happening inside Turkey, but we do know some facts. Newspapers and media have been restricted. Academics have been fired. Peaceful protesting is not allowed. Many people have been imprisoned without any real charges. There are reports of torture and rape and worse.”
Over the last eight years the Turkish government has canceled Kanter’s passport, essentially making him stateless (Kanter became a U.S. citizen this year.) They issued an arrest warrant for him, as an accused member of a “terror group.” His father was also arrested and dismissed from his university position. Kanter believes his family is being targeted by the Turkish government.
In addition to speaking out about human rights violations in Turkey, and mainland China, Kanter recently joined with other athletes in questioning the disappearance of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai.
Move the Olympics for Peng Shuai’s Sake!!!
It's time for us to WAKE UP and SPEAK UP!!
— Enes Kanter (@EnesKanter) November 21, 2021
All this is to say Kanter has been consistent on this and has real stakes in this fight. Maybe you could accuse him of grandstanding, but even that seems like a stretch. On some level all of this matters to him.
Getting back to his criticism of MJ and what the all-time great has or hasn’t done for the Black community, Kanter is in a dangerous space.
A non-Black man critiquing a Black man about his community is a non-starter for many. The use of “what about the Black community” statement is a trope often used by right-wing politicians to connect an unrelated issue to continued anti-Black sentiment.
Although Kanter did qualify his comments by saying Jordan does give money to the Black community. He also backtracked somewhat on his comments about LeBron.
Over the past several years, Jordan has been better about being in lockstep with the Black community over issues of police brutality and racial injustice. But if we’re all truly being honest, with his gravitas and access to financial resources he could do a lot more.
That is what seems to be at the core of Kanter’s critiques on Jordan, LeBron, and Nike.
Kanter isn’t really attacking MJ, Bron or even Nike. He’s attacking capitalism. Unregulated capitalism and its effects on the larger society.
Capitalism is an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. The objective of capitalism is to maximize profits by any means necessary.
Think of capitalism as Pac-Man gobbling up all the dots in the maze, except there are no ghosts to interfere. It just consumes, with an insatiable appetite.
For Nike, LeBron and MJ China is an integral part of their business (read: capital) empires. China’s population is almost 1.5 billion people. That’s nearly five times the size of the U.S.
A good relationship with China is good for business (read: capital). China, is, as we know, a one-party communist government. Criticizing China on any level would undoubtedly damage business relations.
For apex capital predators like Nike, MJ and LeBron that’s a non-starter.
Nike has a $276B market cap. Michael Jordan has a net worth of $1.6B and LeBron has a net worth of $850M. A large part of this insane wealth is directly tied to China.
Like MJ, Nike and LeBron do good work and give back to various communities. Is it enough, given what their profit margins are?
This system where we prioritize profit over people is what Kanter is railing against. Nike and its two biggest money-making ambassadors are just the avatars he’s aiming at.
But capitalism is an unwieldy behemoth gobbling up everything in its path, and Kanter as the lone interfering ghost is not enough to stop it.
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