BOSTON — Celtics center Enes Kanter said he will remain an outspoken critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the wake of being harassed outside a local mosque alongside teammate Tacko Fall on Friday afternoon.
“No, what I’m doing is huge because I’m talking about human rights,” Kanter said Saturday morning, before the Celtics held their annual open practice for fans at TD Garden. “I’m talking about democracy, freedom, freedom of speech, religion and expression. I’m talking about justice.
“So, just because I’m talking about these issues and that stuff, I’m going to get threats? [Then] I’ll take that. I’ll be OK having security next to me 24/7. But those issues that I’m talking about are way bigger than myself and basketball.”
Kanter tweeted a video of the incident Friday, saying the men harassing him were Erdogan supporters.
“There’s Turkish people attacking us. I told you, America, this is crazy, right?” Kanter said in the video, which showed at least one of the men — who were speaking in Turkish — filming Kanter at the same time.
Kanter is Turkish; Fall is from Senegal.
Kanter also said he’s planning on getting full-time security in the wake of the incident, which took place at the Islamic Society of Boston mosque in Cambridge, a short drive from the Celtics’ practice facility. Kanter said he and Fall chose to go there in between the team’s two training camp practices Friday.
“After the first practice, me and Tacko went to that mosque, because it was really close to our facility,” Kanter said Saturday. “Our second practice was at 3 p.m. So I went to this mosque, we prayed and me and Tacko were about to leave and then we were just outside and there were just these two guys. You can see on the video they were just waiting for us. They were screaming, they were yelling, they were cursing.
“It was pretty crazy, because this is America. You should be safe to come in a mosque and pray peacefully. It was the first time it’s happened to me in America, but it was definitely scary because I looked at Tacko and said, ‘Tacko, don’t worry about it. I’ve got it. We’re fine.’ But we were just waiting for our Uber, so it was crazy and scary.”
Kanter said he believed the incident happened because of something he had previously posted on his Twitter feed — video from the week before about Turkish ministers discussing him during a meeting in New York that included discussion of Kanter praying at the mosque he attended Friday.
“I don’t know if they even prayed or not,” Kanter said of the two men. “They were just waiting for us out there and they were just saying some very ugly words. They were calling me a traitor because I talked about these issues. Just some very terrible stuff.”
Kanter reiterated that what happened Friday was a first for him in the United States.
“In America, yes,” he said. “Most of the time they’re scared because they just don’t wanna — I’m 6-foot-11, they don’t come around me and stuff. And I got Tacko next to me, who is 7-foot-7.
“But it was just sad because right next to me there was a rookie and it was Tacko. He felt very uncomfortable, so I was like, ‘This is weird, we have to get out of this situation.'”
Kanter went on to say that he had no ill will for anyone in Boston over the incident, which he blamed directly on the Turkish government.
“I was just scared,” Kanter said. “How about if they do something? I mean, more than me, it’s Tacko. … I [wanted] to protect my Tacko.
“But it’s not about Boston. It’s about Turkish people. I would never, ever blame Boston or people in Boston. I would definitely blame the Turkish people and the Turkish government.”
Kanter said he had reached out to the FBI and had been in touch with several local politicians — including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who he said texted him about the incident later on Friday.
The Celtics said Saturday they wouldn’t be sending out any additional statements on the matter. Celtics president Danny Ainge and coach Brad Stevens said they were planning to speak to Kanter about the incident after the open practice had concluded.
Kanter has clashed with the Turkish government for years, to the point where his Turkish passport was canceled in 2017, and he fears leaving America over the prospect of being deported to Turkey. Fear over the possibility of being in harm’s way if he leaves the U.S. has prevented him from playing in Toronto in recent years — something Kanter is hoping will change in time for him to play for the Celtics on Christmas Day in Toronto against the defending champion Raptors.
Turkish prosecutors have previously sought an international arrest warrant for Kanter, citing his ties to exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is blamed for a failed coup in 2016.