London (AFP) – NBA Commissioner Adam Silver insisted he takes the issue of player safety “very seriously” following New York Knicks star Enes Kanter‘s decision to miss his team’s game in London amid fears he would be killed for his political views.
Turkey-born Kanter was due to play for the Knicks against the Washington Wizards in the NBA’s annual regular-season showcase at London’s O2 Arena on Thursday.
But the 26-year-old refused to travel to England with his Knicks team-mates due to his belief he would be targeted following his controversial feud with Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Kanter is a close ally of US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, who is wanted in Turkey on suspicion of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016.
Kanter claimed Erdogan might have him kidnapped or killed and, while the Knicks were en route to London, an Istanbul prosecutor applied for an Interpol “red notice” to be issued against the player.
An Interpol red notice informs the police agency’s member states about a suspected criminal wanted in one country.
Silver, speaking ahead of the Knicks game, made it clear he would do everything in his power to ensure Kanter’s safety wasn’t in doubt.
“I will say that there is nothing more important to be than the security of our players and we take very seriously the threat that he received even if it was just on social media,” Silver told reporters in London.
“My stance is I think it is very unfortunate that Enes is not here. I absolutely understand why he elected not to come.”
Kanter’s Turkish passport was cancelled in 2017, which he said was because of his political beliefs.
He holds a US green card and says he will become an American citizen in 2021.
But the controversy over his clash with Erdogan has overshadowed the NBA’s attempt to grow their global brand this week.
While his team-mates were preparing to face the Wizards, Kanter spoke to the BBC, adding fuel to the fire as he said he felt “trapped” in America.
Claiming he felt “hunted” and lived in fear of a “lone wolf attack” from supporters of Erdogan.
He also called on US President Donald Trump to be more vocal about human rights in Turkey.
Turkish authorities are believed to have arrested at least 77,000 people since the failed coup, with state employees including teachers, judges and soldiers probed in a crackdown on alleged Gulen supporters.
Silver emphasised that NBA chiefs never asked Kanter to stay away and insisted the league wouldn’t duck the issue.
“Certainly there was no suggestion from the league that he was not welcome on this trip,” Silver said.
“We live in a world where there are significant issues that he is dealing with. I recognize that because the NBA is global business we have to take notice of these issues.
“Again I support Enes as a player in this league.”