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NBA Player Changing Last Name to 'Freedom,' Gain U.S. Citizenship

Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter reportedly plans to legally change his name to 'Enes Kanter Freedom' upon gaining U.S. citizenship on Monday, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania.

Charania reports Kanter will be the center's new middle name, while Freedom will be his new last name, which will allow him to wear it on the back of his jersey per NBA rules.

Kanter, who grew up in Turkey, has been vocal on numerous social issues, notably pertaining to his native country and the NBA's relationship with China, having criticized several of the league's top figures, including LeBron James, for his inaction in China-related topics and James' hesitance to publicly advocate for the COVID-19 vaccine as the face of the league for more than a decade.

Kanter has been outspoken on political issues for several years, specifically those in his native Turkey, which prompted Turkish authorities to seek his arrest in 2019.

In a June 2017 opinion column for the Washington Post, Kanter revealed he was forced to flee Indonesia -- where he was hosting a basketball camp for children -- after he was notified by his manager that Turkish intelligence agents were in the area attempting to capture him.

Earlier this year, Chinese video-streaming giant Tencent cut the live broadcast of the Boston Celtics' game against the New York Knicks amid Kanter's recent comments supporting Tibetan independence.

Kanter shared a video of himself wearing a t-shirt depicting the Dalai Lama -- the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader viewed by many within Beijing as a dangerous separatist -- on his verified Twitter account on October 20 in which he referred to General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jingping as "a brutal dictator."

"My message for the Chinese government is, 'free Tibet,'" Kanter said in the video. "Tibet belongs to Tibetans. I'm here to add my voice and speak out about what is happening in Tibet. Under the Chinese government's brutal rule Tibetan people's basic rights and freedoms are nonexistent."

China seized Tibet in 1950 and it's illegal to support Tibetan independence within the communist republic.

The NBA has been at the center of several political controversies in China as Beijing demands foreign businesses adhere to the republic's political positions in order to access China's populous market, which remains the NBA's largest internationally.

In 2019, then-Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey publicly supported Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, leading to fallout in China for the Rockets that followed him to his current team, the Philadelphia 76ers, upon joining the franchise last November.

Tencent's app currently has upcoming games marked for live broadcast for all NBA teams excluding those involving the Celtics and 76ers, which will be reported by text and photo, according to the Washington Post.

China Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin addressed Kanter's criticism during a news conference on Thursday, accusing the center of “clout-chasing, trying to get attention with Tibet-related issues.”

“Tibet is part of China,” Wang said via the Washington Post. “We welcome unbiased friends upholding objectivity across the world to Tibet. In the meanwhile, we never accept the attacks and smears on Tibet’s development.”

On October 21, a Celtics China fan account on the Chinese social media app Weibo with more than 600,000 followers announced it planned to suspend sharing updates on the team due to a certain NBA player's social media stance.

“From now on, the homepage will no longer report any information about the Boston Celtics, and our Weibo will stop updating!” read the post from the account, Celtics Weibo Express via the Washington Post. “Resolutely resist any behavior that undermines national harmony and the dignity of the motherland!”

A sports blogger under the Weibo account "Brother Qiang Says Stuff" -- who has more than 4 million followers -- said there should be zero tolerance for Kanter's comments, while others called for a boycott of the NBA altogether.

Kanter planned to play in the October 20 game with "Free Tibet" and an image of a man self-immolating -- a desperate form of protest taken by Tibetans in the past -- designed by prominent overseas Chinese political cartoonist Badiucao, but was never substituted into the Celtics' 138-134 double-overtime loss.

Kanter has also urged U.S. lawmakers to take measures to support human rights in his home country during recent years.

Several past NBA players have taken similar actions to spread social awareness during their playing careers. In 2011, then-Los Angeles Lakers forward Ron Artest-- now Metta Sandiford-Artest -- legally changed his name to Metta World Peace.

In 1981, then-Golden State Warriors guard Lloyd Bernard Free legally changed his name to World B. Free.

Kanter wore 'Freedom' on the back of his jersey when the NBA allowed players to wear social justice messages during the 2020 Orlando bubble.

The Turkish center is averaging 4.2 points in 11.2 minutes per game for the Celtics during the 2021-22 NBA season.

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