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Why Is This Happening? Balancing NBA stardom and Turkish exile with Enes Kanter: podcast and transcript

Chris Hayes talks with Boston Celtics player Enes Kanter about playing in the NBA and the Turkish government's retribution against him and his family.

Enes Kanter is a wanted man in his home country of Turkey. He’s long been a vocal critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and it’s come at a high cost. At 6′ 10″, Kanter also happens to play for the Boston Celtics in the NBA. How he came to sit at this intersection is a riveting story, one that involves an NBA draft at age 19, a failed coup d'état and a system of retribution by the Turkish government that targets not only Kanter but the family he left behind.

ENES KANTER: This is not my job. I'm a basketball player. I'm not a journalist. I'm not a politician. Some of the words I use, I have to go over it like three, four times so I can pronounce it better. Because I'm like, this is my second language and I don't know this. I went to school for one year, college. That's it.

CHRIS HAYES: Hello and welcome to “Why Is This Happening” with me, your host, Chris Hayes.

So there were a lot of weird things that happened in 2016 in the election, but for my money, the single weirdest happened on election day. It was an op-ed that was published on election day in The Hill, which is a sort of political insider publication in Washington D.C., and it was written by Michael Flynn.

Now, Michael Flynn was the chief national security advisor to the campaign of Donald Trump, and he was publishing an op-ed on election day. And you would think if you're working on a campaign, your election day op-ed would be the closing message. So you might imagine an op-ed, "Why Donald Trump will make America safe again." Right? That would be the kind of thing you'd do. Campaigns do this all the time. They have surrogates or they have campaign people. They've sent out op-eds. They try to place them.

Here's the election day. It's the last chance to make your pitch to the American people. What you're going to do. What is Donald Trump going to do for the American people as you head to the polls? That was not what Michael Flynn chose to write in The Hill on election day. No, no. He wrote an op-ed that's titled "Our Ally Turkey is in Crisis and Needs Our Support." It is a long, slightly deranged screed against a fairly obscure Turkish cleric named Fethullah Gülen.

In the course of the op-ed, Michael Flynn essentially intimates that he is a secret Islamic radical and terrorist supporter, that he may be the next Ayatollah Khomeini, that it's insane that he has been granted haven in Pennsylvania. And he points out that this guy, this cleric, lives in the United States, in the Poconos in Pennsylvania, and Michael Flynn wants you to know this is a terrible mistake, that the U.S. should not be providing what he calls "safe haven" to this crypto "radical" Islamic terrorist.

This is how the op-ed ends. "The forces of radical Islam derive their ideology from radical clerics like Gülen, who is running a scam. We should not provide him safe haven. In this crisis it is imperative we remember who our real friends are." What the f---? Why is Michael Flynn on election day writing this op-ed? It's utterly bizarre.

Well, I'll give you the answer to that question. It's now attached as an editor's note to the op-ed, which is still up on The Hill. "Editor's note: on March 8th, 2017, four months after this article was published, General Flynn filed documents for the federal government, indicating he earned $530,000 last fall for consulting work that might have aided the government of Turkey."

It turns out Michael Flynn was on the payroll of the Turkish government to push for what is basically one of their number one policy priorities of the U.S., which is to extradite the cleric Fethullah Gülen, who lives in the Poconos, back to Turkey so that they can probably give him the death penalty or put him away forever. And the reason is that the strongman leader of Turkey, Recep Erdogan, views Fethullah Gülen as the mastermind behind anti-Erdogan forces.

Remember some years ago there was an attempted coup against Erdogan? Erdogan wants to get Gülen. It didn't just stop with Michael Flynn. Subsequently we have received reporting that Rudy Giuliani would just pop into the White House and be like, "Hey guys, what are we going to do about extraditing Fethullah Gülen?" And Rudy Giuliani also was working on behalf of a Turkish client very close to the Turkish state. Unclear whether he was being paid directly by the Turkish government, but maybe Turkish interests.

All right, so there's this guy who is very important to the Turkish government named Fethullah Gülen, who is a cleric, who lives in the U.S.

Today's conversation is with an NBA basketball player for the Boston Celtics who has found himself in the middle of this international caper. His name is Enes Kanter. He is a center on the Boston Celtics. He is very tall. He is very strong. He is very, very good at defense and rebounding. He is, as you will find in this interview, delightful and charismatic and a fascinating dude who has been playing basketball in the States for about 10 years. He's had a very strong career. He's not an All Atar, he's not someone that you would see in commercials, he's not that level of good, but he has had a very good NBA career.

And he happens to be a Turkish national who is a follower of Fethullah Gülen. And as a follower of Fethullah Gülen, his life has been entirely thrown upside down by the Turkish state's persecution of followers of Fethullah Gülen.

Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen speaks to members of the media at his compound on July 17, 2016, in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania.Chris Post / AP file

What it has meant is that Enes Kanter, the center for the Boston Celtics, can no longer go to his home country of Turkey. He can no longer talk to his family. He can no longer even travel to Europe secure in the knowledge that he won't be arrested and possibly extradited. And I've followed Enes Kanter for a while. He has such a unique story and he is such a unique presence, both on the basketball court and on social media. I've been wanting to sit down and talk to him for a while. First of all, because I have a sort of interest in Turkish politics and particularly the Gülen movement and the dynamics there, but also because I'm a huge basketball fan and I thought it would be really fascinating and fun to talk to an NBA basketball player.

So today's conversation is really... it's hard to put a genre around it, because it's about this incredibly intense story of international religious persecution, and also the way the modern NBA has changed in the era of the three pointer. So that's what you've got in store for this conversation with Enes Kanter.

How's the season going?

ENES KANTER: Season? Actually going pretty good. We are the third seed in the east. Yeah. We just lost against UC yesterday though. Was a pretty bad deal.

CHRIS HAYES: Did Harden go off?

ENES KANTER: Oh my God. I think he had like 39 or 42 or something crazy, man.

CHRIS HAYES: Do you find it as maddening to play against him as I find it to watch him?

ENES KANTER: It's always fun to watch him, because obviously he's one of the best scorers in the league, but I hate going against him, man. This guy's just unbelievable. I don't know how he does it.

CHRIS HAYES: Yeah, it is. It is crazy.

So Enes, first, where did you grow up in Turkey?

ENES KANTER: So I born in Switzerland, actually. And yeah, after nine months I moved back to Turkey and I grew up east side of Turkey called Van, V-A-N, it's in very, very East.

CHRIS HAYES: And how did you start playing basketball?

ENES KANTER: I actually wanted to be a soccer player. Well, obviously I was the tallest one in my classroom and they were just keep making me a goalie. And I'm like, "I'm so tired of playing soccer." I started playing basketball actually pretty delayed. I started like around 14 years old.

CHRIS HAYES: How tall were you then?

ENES KANTER: I think I was around like 6'5", maybe 6'6".

CHRIS HAYES: You were already a super big dude.

ENES KANTER: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

CHRIS HAYES: And did you just begin dominating basketball, or was it a learning curve?

ENES KANTER: Well, I think my first year it was a learning curve because, I mean, obviously I didn't grow up playing basketball, but once I started getting used to all this, the moves and everything, I started dominating.

CHRIS HAYES: Were you the best player in Turkey?

ENES KANTER: I was actually, yes, I was. In national team, I was the best player. In my club teams, I was the best player. Actually, I was the MVP of European championship when I was young.

CHRIS HAYES: How old were you then?

ENES KANTER: I was 18 years old.

CHRIS HAYES: When did you enter the NBA draft?

ENES KANTER: 19 years old.

CHRIS HAYES: Wow.

ENES KANTER: Yeah. I was 19 years old. I was like, "Man, this is so early, but you know what, this is my dream, so I'm just going to enter the draft and see what happens.

CHRIS HAYES: What kind of family did you grow up in? Where your parents... What did they do and were they supportive of this?

ENES KANTER: They did not. No way. They were all about education. They'd say, "Oh no, go to school." All about schoolwork, education. I'm like, "Dad, Mom, I understand. Schoolwork is so important, but same time I want to play basketball." Right. And then my dad was always like negatives. Like "No, we giving so much money to the schools. You focus on your schoolwork. What do you think you have? What is basketball? Whatever."

Then I made my first check, my first check came in and my dad is like, "OK, you playing basketball from now."

CHRIS HAYES: Wait, was the first check professional in Europe or was it in the NBA?

ENES KANTER: Europe, Europe.

CHRIS HAYES: And that converted him. What does your father do? What did he do?

ENES KANTER: He was just so happy. I actually took my friends to the Pizza Hut, and it was just so amazing because I made my first check. And actually, my dad was a genetic professor, and then he's been in universities and schools his whole life.

CHRIS HAYES: Oh, so he's an academic and a scientist, so this is his whole life.

ENES KANTER: Yes, whole life. And then my second in the league I start making more money than him, and he was like, "OK, you're playing basketball from now."

CHRIS HAYES: And then you declared for the draft when you were 19. You get drafted in the U.S. I imagine that had to be just an enormous culture shock for you.

ENES KANTER: Actually, I went to prep school in America. Yeah, I went to prep school in Los Angeles, and then I went to college in Kentucky.

CHRIS HAYES: Oh, you were at the University of Kentucky?

ENES KANTER: Yes, I did, with Coach Cal.

CHRIS HAYES: Oh wow. I didn't realize. So you came over as a high school student and then you played college ball here in the States. So what was that like, to be a Turkish basketball player who then is in the heart of the most intense basketball culture in the whole country?

ENES KANTER: I mean, obviously, my first two, three months, I was really struggling in America. Because, I mean, the language is different, culture is different, religion is different, everything. Food is different. Everything was different. I was really trying to get used to everything. And then I'm like, "You know what, this is going to be my home from now on, so let me just focus on what I need to focus on and just, this is my home." And from that moment I'm like, "You know what, I'm going to try to be the best player I can."

CHRIS HAYES: Did your teammates accept you or welcome you in? Did you feel like they were happy to have you or did you feel like there was a barrier there?

ENES KANTER: There was no barrier, but just because of the language difference I was... Of course my English wasn't the best so I was always trying to understand them, they were always trying to understand me. But they always try to help me with everything, with school works, with homeworks and everything. So I think it was a pretty easy transition because of my teammates. Once I joined NBA, everything just became so easy because the NBA was so helpful.

CHRIS HAYES: The NBA, the league was?

ENES KANTER: Oh yeah.

CHRIS HAYES: Do they have a program in place for players like yourself that are from other countries?

ENES KANTER: They have tutors. So if you are... because, I mean, the communication is very, very important. So if you don't understand the coach, if you don't understand what the other player was saying, you're not going to be effective on the court. So sometimes they get you an English teacher, like a tutor. So after the practices or before the games, whatever, you go there and then you just spend one hour to two hours and just stay there and just try to learn the English.

CHRIS HAYES: And that must've been a huge change in your life as you became fluent in English, that you could fully communicate with everyone.

ENES KANTER: Oh yeah, for sure. Because I felt so much... It affected me so much on the court because I felt so comfortable and I felt so confident on the court, because I was understanding my teammates, my coaches, the fans, everything, whatever everything was saying. So it was amazing.

Enes Kanter #11 of the Boston Celtics.Brian Babineau / NBAE via Getty Images

CHRIS HAYES: So I want to talk a little bit about your religion and your belief system. There's a clerical religious figure named Fethullah Gülen. How would you describe it? You're a follower of his, is that a fair way to characterize it?

ENES KANTER: Yeah, I think so. Yeah. I will say that it's a fair way.

CHRIS HAYES: Can you explain to someone who doesn't know anything about who Fethullah Gülen is? Like why you're a follower and when you became a follower of his?

ENES KANTER: So I actually started going to his school when I was in second grade. So I grew up in this movement school — not his school, this movement school — since second grade. And then, after I came to America, I got to actually have a chance to meet him. And then one thing I will say about him, especially in summertime when we don't have the basketball season, I try to go visit him once a month. And whenever I go see him we always just have a conversation. It's like, I feel like he believes that the most important thing in life is live your differences on a table and trying to find what we have in common. I mean, we can be in different religion, different culture, different color, different ethnicity, this and that, different backgrounds. But I feel like we should find... The one question we should ask ourselves, how can we make this world better together?

And then this movement believes in education, secular education. That's why this movement has schools over 170 countries in the world. And these schools are not just for Muslim people. You're Jewish, you're Catholic or Christian, you believe in God, you don't believe in God, these schools are just, it's all about math and science and you go there and you learn about education.

CHRIS HAYES: Yeah. So he has schools all over, including the U.S. I had a friend, actually, who was a teacher in a Chicago school that was started by the Gülen movement. There's schools all over the world. And these schools are math and science focused schools that are staffed by the Gülen movement. Right?

ENES KANTER: Okay. Yeah.

CHRIS HAYES: So your introduction to the movement was you went to one of these movement schools. Were your parents followers of Gülen?

ENES KANTER: I will say my mom, yes. My dad little bit too. Because, I mean, I was always seeing this, the books that Mr. Gülen wrote, they were always in this movement, but they never met with Mr. Gülen personally. But I was the one that came to America and met him.

CHRIS HAYES: So you have a relationship personally with him?

ENES KANTER: Right. Yes.

CHRIS HAYES: So in your native Turkey, Gülen is a very controversial figure. Is that fair to say?

ENES KANTER: Right. Yes.

CHRIS HAYES: Can you explain why that is?

ENES KANTER: I mean, I'll just say this. Just because of in Turkey, this movement not just have schools, media outlets, magazines or newspaper, this and that. Just because of this group is not a yes man. Just because of it doesn't listen. It just speaks the truth. So that's why a lot of people, I guess, hates it, and especially within Turkey.

CHRIS HAYES: And it's a very strong movement. I mean, there are followers all throughout government, media, in business. And the Turkish president, Erdogan, he views it as a threat, a threat to the Turkish state and to his power.

ENES KANTER: That's what he's saying. I don't understand how or why, but that's what he's saying. Yeah.

CHRIS HAYES: You don't think that's true?

ENES KANTER: I think it's true, because these people in the movement is just from Turkish citizens, and they have rights to join the military, join the police, can be a judge or be a teacher, or choose to be a doctor. I mean, they're just normal Turkish citizens.

CHRIS HAYES: And the movement is... You are a believer in Islam, right? You consider yourself Muslim.

ENES KANTER: Yes.

CHRIS HAYES: But it's a form of Islam. Is that fair to say?

ENES KANTER: What do you mean by that?

CHRIS HAYES: You are a follower of Gülen, but you also consider yourself a Muslim and there's not a tension between those two things in your mind.

ENES KANTER: Oh, it's the same thing. Just being a Muslim.

CHRIS HAYES: How devout are you? Do you abstain from alcohol? Do you pray?

ENES KANTER: Yes. I mean, stay away from alcohol. I try five times a day. Through Ramadan, especially even last year it was during the playoffs, I was still trying to fast at Ramadan. So I was trying to do what my religion asked me to do.

CHRIS HAYES: I remember when I was growing up, Hakeem Olajuwon, who was a very devout Muslim, Ramadan fell during the playoffs and there would be day games during the playoffs, so he would have to play an entire NBA basketball game. And you're not allowed to drink water if you're fasting, right? And he would play playoff games without drinking water. And I remember thinking, "That's insane." Have you ever had to do that?

ENES KANTER: I actually... so last year we were playing Western conference finals and it was during Ramadan and Hakeem is my really good friend. I actually texted him. I was like, "Hey man, hey. How did you do it?" And he told me, he just ate oatmeal and dates, and drink water. I was so shocked. I'm like, "That's it?" I was literally drinking one gallon of water, trying to eat as much food as I can so I can have energy for the game. But I feel like it's all about mindset. I feel like if you put your mind on it that you can do it, I did not have any hard time doing it.

CHRIS HAYES: The Gülen movement has been the subject of a lot of state repression in Turkey. Can you tell me about what that looks like? What's the reality for people like yourself that are part of the Gülen movement who live in Turkey?

ENES KANTER: Right now it's very tough, especially after there was a corruption happen in Turkey back in 2013. The president, his family was involved. So after that, everything was started go backwards. I remember 2013, there is lots of the judges, police and prosecutors was in jail. After that, obviously you know the coup attempt happened, and after the coup attempt, I was like, the country is just becoming somewhere so crazy, because there are lots of innocent people going to jail, lots of journalists going to jail, lots of innocent women and everything in jail. You don't have to support this organization. There are lots of people out there who works in the schools. They don't support the movement, but they are just working in the schools, or hospitals, or media outlets, but they're still in jail just because of their work in these groups.

CHRIS HAYES: So the coup fails, Erdogan comes back to power, he blames the Gülen movement for fomenting the coup, and begins mass arrests and imprisonment of all sorts of people. Professors at universities, teachers in schools, all sorts of people. At that point, do you start to feel like you personally, you or your family are in a dangerous situation?

ENES KANTER: I'll say this. Not many people knows, I don't say this to a lot of places. But the night of the coup attempt, I was with Mr. Gülen. 2016, July 15, I was with Mr. Gülen in the same room when the coup attempt happened.

CHRIS HAYES: So the coup is in 2016, and the night of the coup, you were with Mr. Gülen.

ENES KANTER: In the same room.

CHRIS HAYES: In Pennsylvania where he lives?

ENES KANTER: In Pennsylvania, yes.

CHRIS HAYES: Was he actually plotting the coup? Do you respond to that accusation?

ENES KANTER: I'll tell you what happened. I usually go, especially in the summertime once a month, and that night happens to be the coup attempt night. I went there, I was just sitting down eating Turkish food and hanging out with people over there. And then, one of my friend came up to me and said, "There's coup happening in Turkey." I'm like, "What is a coup attempt?" Because I had no idea what coup attempt was. I was like, "What is a coup attempt?" And then he tried to explain to me and stuff. And then I get into that room. One of Mr. Gülen's followers, I remember brought an iPad to Mr. Gülen and said, "There's a coup attempt happening." And he was shocked. So as soon as he heard that, he told all his followers to get in the room and start praying for Turkey.

And then, I remember, I saw him what he did with my own eyes, what he did that night. He sat on his chair and prayed for his country all day. And 45 minutes later, after the coup attempt, President Erdogan came out and blamed on the Gülen movement. I'm like, are you kidding me? That night I was with Mr. Gülen and I saw what he did with my own eyes. And he did not look like he was orchestrating a coup attempt. So I'm like, I have to say something about this. And then I start talking about this issue, telling people what Mr. Gülen did that night, and everything. But for me, it was just so sad, because that night over 250 people died. It was like, I feel like if you're asking me, there is not one single report out there that show that night that Mr. Gülen or his movement was involved in a coup attempt.

CHRIS HAYES: So you come out publicly afterward to defend the Gülen movement from charges by President Erdogan that he had fomented the coup. Are you giving interviews to Turkish media?

ENES KANTER: No. Trust me, none of the Turkish media want to talk to me right now.

CHRIS HAYES: Right, because Erdogan has a very tight vice grip on Turkish media.

ENES KANTER: For sure, yeah. He controls the media in Turkey. I don't think any Turkish media will even want to get one quote from me.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his ruling party legislators at the Parliament, in Ankara, Turkey on Oct 16, 2019.Burhan Ozbilici / AP

CHRIS HAYES: So you were talking to American media?

ENES KANTER: Yes. I was talking to the big media outlets, newspaper, magazines. I tried to talk to lawmakers, because I saw that happened that night with my own eyes.

CHRIS HAYES: And when you start talking about that, are there repercussions for you or for your family back in Turkey?

ENES KANTER: Of course, yeah. After 2016, after the coup attempt, I started talking about these issues more and more. Of course it affected me and my family. My dad was a genetic professor. He got fired from his job.

CHRIS HAYES: When did he get fired?

ENES KANTER: After the coup attempt. My sister went to medical school for six years, now she cannot find any job. My little brother, I have two brothers, one of them played basketball in Spain. But the other one, little one, was in Turkey playing basketball. He literally got kicked out of every team he played for. So my family members keep getting fired and stuff. They had to put a statement out there, it's actually still on internet. If you go you can find it. They publicly disowned me. They said, "We are disowning Enes."

CHRIS HAYES: Your family did?

ENES KANTER: Yes. There is actually a big letter out that my dad wrote, it's on the internet, you can find it very easy, that we are disowning Enes. I'm like, "Wow. That hurts." I remember going to a practice that day. It was like one of the most weirdest and awkward day in my life. I'm like, "OK." Of course it hurt a lot. But same time, you have to understand it, because they were getting lots of pressure from Turkish media, and everybody.

CHRIS HAYES: I just want to be clear on the timeline of this. When did they put the statement out disowning you?

ENES KANTER: After the coup attempt.

CHRIS HAYES: In that year, 2016?

ENES KANTER: Yes.

CHRIS HAYES: Did you have any warning from them, or did you just discover that it was there?

ENES KANTER: I was talking to my brother, and then the next day they put the statement out there. My dad was telling my brother, like, "Hey look, Enes is talking. It's good and everything, but it's affecting us. We are all getting affected. He's in America, but we are in Turkey. We are the one getting affected, so we're going to do something about it." I'm like, "OK. But I have to speak the truth, right?" So they publicly disowned me, whatever. And then after that, they put the letter out and said, "We are disowning Enes."

But Turkish government didn't believe that. So after that, probably two months later after they put the statement out, the Turkish government sent police to my house in Turkey, and they took every electrics away. Phones away, computers away, laptops away. They raided the whole house and they took every electrics away. They wanted to see if I am still in contact with my family or not. And if they were to see any text message, any missed calls, any emails like, "Hi Mom, hi Dad, how you guys doing?" They will be all in trouble, because they publicly disowned me.

And then after they raided, they took my dad in jail for seven days. He actually has a picture of, it was while he was getting out of the jail. He has a picture on the internet. They put him in jail for seven days, but we put so much pressure from here, from America to Turkey, with media outlets, with some celebrities and everything, they let him go. But now, he goes to trial every three, four months, and they literally just accuse him of being my dad, and they just keep delaying his trial.

CHRIS HAYES: So he has been in the judicial process since 2016 straight with no actual culmination of a judgment?

ENES KANTER: My brother told me, he's actually next trial on March 19th. And if they find him guilty, they're going to put him in prison for five-and-a-half years.

CHRIS HAYES: What is he accused of?

ENES KANTER: Just literally just being my dad. I asked my brothers, "What are they accusing him for?" Just literally just being my dad. That does not make sense. What are they talking about? They said, "This is what they say."

CHRIS HAYES: When's the last time you spoke to your father?

ENES KANTER: It was a long time ago. I can't even remember. Last time I saw my family was back in 2015.

CHRIS HAYES: Were you in Turkey?

ENES KANTER: Yes, I was in Turkey. But now, just because my dad goes to trial, they cannot leave the country, and obviously I cannot go back to Turkey. So last time I saw him was back in 2015.

CHRIS HAYES: So you have not talked to your family since the coup, you haven't been back to Turkey, and they haven't seen you.

ENES KANTER: Yes, or any FaceTime or anything.

CHRIS HAYES: And the only one that you have contact with is the brother who's playing basketball in Spain?

ENES KANTER: Yeah. My brother is in Spain.

CHRIS HAYES: That must be so devastating.

ENES KANTER: Of course it's tough, because obviously at the same time I'm trying to play basketball. And it's like, it's very, very tough because you think about your dad going to trial in a couple months, and then he might be in jail for five whatever years. And then you're going out there and trying to play basketball. It is really rough.

CHRIS HAYES: What is your support system, for lack of a better word, like here in the States? Do you have extended family? Do you have friends you're close to, relationships you're in?

ENES KANTER: I have my teammates. My teammates, seriously. Because all this stuff going on, NBA been supportive of me so much, with everything. It was just so amazing to see how much support I get from my teammates. Because look, these are very complicated conversations. And when the family is involved, they don't really want to ask questions, because it's very, very awkward. But once you sit down with them and talk to them one-on-one, face to face, around 30 minutes, the next question they ask me, "How can we help?" Because right now, if I don't talk to them, they're telling me, "Are you crazy?" Just like, "Hey, keep your mouth shut. Make your millions, live a happy life. Why are you talking about these issues? You're too young. You don't know." But once I sit down I'm like, "Hey listen, this is not about just my family. There are a thousand people, a thousand journalists, a thousand families out there, their situation is way worse than mine."

CHRIS HAYES: So your teammates were kind of like, "Buddy, what are you doing here? You're in the U.S., you're making millions of dollars. You're going to be set for life. Your family is going to be set for life. Just shut up about Erdogan and Gülen." And you explained to them that your conscience won't let you do that.

ENES KANTER: Because think about this. They're right. If I just not say anything, if I don't say a word, I will live a happy life in America. But just think about this, man. There are 17,000 innocent women are in jail right now. There's almost 1,000 babies in the jail growing up with their mothers. There are lots of people losing their jobs, like my dad, losing their homes, losing their loved ones, losing their business just because they don't think the same way what Erdogan thinks. That's why I'm like, Turkey is the number one country in the world that put the most journalists in jail. Over 300, I think, after the coup attempt.

So I'm like, you know what? Just because God blessed me with this platform, just because I play in NBA, I have a platform. So I'm trying to use this platform to be the voice of all those innocent people who don't have one. This is not my job. I'm a basketball player. I'm not a journalist, I'm not a politician. Some of the words I use, I have to go over three, four times so I can pronounce it better, because this is my second language, and I don't know this. I went to school for one year college, that's it, and then I went to NBA.

But these conversations are so important for others, for other people. I have to just sit down, when all my teammates goes out to hang out, just goes out to parties, goes out to beach and hang out, summertime. I come home and just open the book and try to study. Okay, this is what this. This is what foreign policy is. This is what the relationship between Turkey and this one. All that stuff. It's like, what is the relationship between America and Turkey? Trump, Erdogan, they love each other so much. I'm trying to understand everything, you know what I mean? For me, I have to sit down and study.

CHRIS HAYES: Last year, you were on the New York Knicks, and there was a game in London that the New York Knicks were going to play to help promote the game abroad. It was a regular season game, and you didn't go on that trip. Why didn't you go on the trip?

ENES KANTER: My name is on an international warning. They put my name on red notice system — Interpol. So this is what the Turkish government is doing. If you're talking against the government, they're using their power, they've used red notice system, Interpol. My name was on Interpol, so if I get on that plane, and if I would have landed in London, they would have sent me back to Turkey, deport me back to Turkey.

So I talked to the New York Knicks, I talked to Foreign Office, they're like, "Hey, I understand you want to come and play, but it's only one game. Just sit down, practice here, we're going to get a coach for you, you can practice with him, but we don't want to risk it." Because Adam Silver and all the coaches and teammates, they said, "We know you want to go, but this is too much of a risk. Just sit in America. We've got that game for you." And they lost. They lost by one point.

CHRIS HAYES: Were they crushed on the boards because you weren't there?

ENES KANTER: Yes. Actually, the last point, their big man scored a ball, and we lost the game.

CHRIS HAYES: If only you'd been defending and protecting the rim.

ENES KANTER: Yeah. It was tough, because like I said again, I want to go out there and do my job. I want to go out there and play basketball. This year was the first year that I left the country and went to Canada. It was the first year in the last two, whatever years.

CHRIS HAYES: You had an away game with the Raptors?

ENES KANTER: Yeah.

CHRIS HAYES: And so you went to that game, you felt comfortable that the Canadian authorities were not going to arrest you and deport you to Turkey?

ENES KANTER: Yes. They talked to the Canadian government for me. They said, "He's all good. He can get in, come out. Don't worry about it." So I'm like, "That's good."

CHRIS HAYES: So you're an exile. You can't go back to your country. Not only can you not go back to your country, it's risky for you to even just say, go to Europe.

ENES KANTER: Yeah. That's why I've been talking to a lot of people, and they said, "Hey, just don't leave the country. Just stay here until you become an American citizen." I'm actually becoming an American citizen in 2021.

CHRIS HAYES: That's exciting. I want to talk about-

ENES KANTER: Oh my God.

CHRIS HAYES: I want to talk about that. I want to talk about your life as a basketball player, and a soon to be American, right after we take this quick break. All right, so you're going to become an American citizen in 2021. You're cut off from your family. Do you have other members of the Gülen movement and other Turkish folks here in your life in America that you can commiserate with, and talk with, and be around?

ENES KANTER: Oh yeah. Wherever I go, there are lots of people who escaped Turkey and came here and are trying to start a life. I'm glad I'm in Boston right now. It's an international city, and there are lots of universities are here. It's a big Turkish community in Boston. But if you go to Chicago, if you go to New York or New Jersey, there are lots of big Turkish communities out there, I can't just go out and hang out with.

CHRIS HAYES: So I want to talk, I mean you basketball is your life and I'm an enormous basketball fan and your refuge from this awful situation that you find yourself in is playing the game. How many years have you been in the league?

ENES KANTER: This is my ninth year.

CHRIS HAYES: In the... It's sort of a perfect trajectory because I think over the course of the nine years that you've been in the league, the game has really transformed in a lot of ways, right? Talk to me about how you see the changes the modern NBA.

ENES KANTER: Well, back in the day you will see like more players like Shaq, Yao Ming, I'll say back-to-the-basket players, but now the NBA is changing so much. You don't really see back-to-the-basket players anymore. It's all about — after what Golden State did to NBA — it's all about shooting threes, just shooting from far, far, far away. I feel like NBA is more about now just fast break game, shooting threes, just one-on-one and just facing up and just get buckets. But I think it just because you don't really see slow players every... I have lots of basketball camps all on American summertime, every kid want to be like Steph Curry. It doesn't matter, they're big men, they're small, they're high, they all want to shoot threes and say Steph Curry, Steph Curry. It's kind of a little hurting in NBA because they're, they don't have the same fundamental anymore because they all want to shoot threes. But I think, I'll say the NBA has changed a lot, you can do nothing about it.

CHRIS HAYES: Do you think that the sort of analytics, the combination of the Golden State model and the analytics revolution where they've decided that the highest efficiency thing for a team to do is either lay-ups or threes? I feel like it's been exciting to watch the transformation, but we've almost reached the point where it sort of has diminishing returns where the game has become weirdly a little predictable because it's basically every team is running a pick-and-roll and then a drive-and-dish to find the open three-shooter, or get out on the break, or a lob off the pick and roll for a dunk. That's essentially all the options and I wonder if you as a basketball player feel stifled by how constricted the systems feel?

ENES KANTER: It's yes, I mean like last night we play against Houston Rockets and the tallest player they had was 6'6".

CHRIS HAYES: Well, they don't have Capela anymore, so they've been, Capela who is this incredible center.

ENES KANTER: Right.

CHRIS HAYES: And they're now running, they're doing this crazy experiment where all of their... Basically starting five guards and playing with no big men.

ENES KANTER: Yes, because beginning of the game, James Harden was in a jump ball. I'm like, this is going to be a weird game. This is going to be a very weird game, right? And they all did, there was like open gym, just one-on-one game shooting threes. I'm like, this is wild, I never seen anything like this before. But this is where NBA goes, I guess, because as a player, you always got to add some extra to your game. If you're a big man, you're going to be able to pick-and-roll and pick them up and start shooting threes because that's what I'm NBA going now.

CHRIS HAYES: Does that, I'm really curious about that. One thing that we've seen is more and more big men taking more and more threes and I wonder how much people like yours, I mean you're sort of known as a kind of, I think it's fair to say defense and rebounding specialist, but do you practice the three? Do you shoot a lot more threes in practice now than you used to?

ENES KANTER: I will say I hate it, but I have to work out.

CHRIS HAYES: Why do you hate it? You just told me every kid in summer camp wants to be Steph Curry. I always think that every big man does too.

ENES KANTER: Because my game is all about rebound and play physical, back-to-back while back-to-the-basket and or just post it up and everything. But now like you said, like the game is changing so much. You got to be able to do both. But now it's like after every practice I got to work on my threes for at least 15 minutes. Coaches like "Okay, big mens, here you go." So we all big mens get together and start shooting threes. Like, okay, who's going to make the first one to five, first one to 10. But I think it just, this is where NBA going, it's like, it's so weird because NBA's getting much smaller and smaller because if you think about a basketball player is like huge, gigantic human beings, but now it's like so weird, getting smaller and smaller every year.

CHRIS HAYES: Are there special coaches? I always wonder this too, I always have this thought experiment, which is like, I played basketball in high school. I was never very good. I still play pickup ball. I love basketball. I loved it since I was a kid and I always wonder, if I had nothing else to do, and I had a professional shooting coach and all I had, all I did was practice. How good could I get at shooting very three pointers?

ENES KANTER: Very good. Oh my God, yeah. You don't have to play basket-

CHRIS HAYES: You think so-

ENES KANTER: Oh my God, yeah.

CHRIS HAYES: It's mostly, so what you're saying is it's mostly good coaching and practice and reps and basically anyone with a-

ENES KANTER: A mental.

CHRIS HAYES: A certain amount of skill can become a pretty good three point shooter?

ENES KANTER: I think so. I think so because-

CHRIS HAYES: That's fascinating.

ENES KANTER: I mean, I saw, I watched this shooting coaches on YouTube and they making hundred threes in a row. I'm like, that is so weird. If you look at him, he does not look like a basketball player.

CHRIS HAYES: Right.

ENES KANTER: He's probably 50 years old, small man trying to make hundred threes in a row. I'm like, this is so weird. But I feel like it's all about practicing hard, just mentality and just going out there and just do your job, I guess.

CHRIS HAYES: I spoke to a sports writer, Howard Bryant, a few weeks ago, and we were talking about the underappreciated mental complexity of being a professional athlete. And I note this particularly when I look at the modern NBA, particularly defensive schemes they've gotten, they're quite complicated. I mean at every single moment and at every single decision and every time the ball moves, there's a really complicated set of decisions you're supposed to make about where you should be.

ENES KANTER: Right.

CHRIS HAYES: Right?

ENES KANTER: There's so many rules, man. Because like in Europe, let me tell you something, in Europe it was good because there weren't many so many rules. But now here you got the defensive three seconds, you've got the offensive three seconds, you've got the goaltending, you've got all this stuff but here, it's so much reflexing, it's like it's a one second thing you always have to pay attention you cannot fall asleep, if you fall asleep, it's over.

CHRIS HAYES: How do you feel about, I know you have a reputation as a fairly spirited player.

ENES KANTER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

CHRIS HAYES: I think that's fair to say.

ENES KANTER: Yeah.

CHRIS HAYES: And you like to talk trash a little bit.

ENES KANTER: For sure, oh yeah.

CHRIS HAYES: You seem to enjoy, you seem to relish it.

ENES KANTER: Yeah. Because it's all about going out there to having fun, right?

CHRIS HAYES: And you like that, that makes it fun for you.

ENES KANTER: Oh yeah, because when you go out there playing against guys like LeBron James, right? Or like James Harden or like Russell Westbrook, like Kevin Durant, some of the top, top players, there is no way you're going to stop them. They going to score 20-25 no matter what, right. But the one thing is you can really do to try to get under their skin and try to just try demoralizing the whole game. So what I do, even if I'm on a bench, even if I want to, it doesn't matter. I'll always try to say, "Hey, those are terrible shoes man." I say, "Hey, the haircut is terrible." Something crazy, I don't know. I tried to say like something so crazy. They're like, "What are you talking about?" Or always try to ask them like, "Hey man, how was your family doing?" So I'm trying to like them, trying to talk to them and get them out of their games. Like, "Hey man, how's your family doing? How was things at home, how was this? Are we going to play European championship this year?" So I'm always, trying to distract them somehow.

CHRIS HAYES: But you're, just to be clear, you're not like menacing, you're just trying to make like inane small talk.

ENES KANTER: Oh yeah.

CHRIS HAYES: You're just making small talk. You're just like, acting like you were at a cocktail party even though you're in the middle of an NBA game.

ENES KANTER: There you go. But this is actually Tim Duncan used to do it. Tim Duncan is one of the nicest player that you will ever seen. He will smile at your face. He will be so nice. Ask him, "Oh my God, this is so nice." And then the next thing you know he's going to drop 30 on you, because he does, he just feels like, "Oh my God is like, he's nice. He's just, he's a legend. I'm guarding." So you just gave like soften up a little bit, and then next thing you know it just, he drops 30 on you.

CHRIS HAYES: What's the hardest part about being a professional basketball player?

ENES KANTER: I will say not the basketball part, but like what's going on off the court because it's my ninth year in the league so I know how to handle it. But I see a lots of players, right after the game, they're going to their Twitter, they're going to Instagram and see what people say about them.

CHRIS HAYES: Dude.

ENES KANTER: They play good or they play bad.

CHRIS HAYES: This... I'm so fascinated by this because Kevin Durant, particularly, Kevin Durant. Kevin Durant's notorious on this and he'll like, he'll respond to Twitter trolls and it's like, he's better than he-

ENES KANTER: Oh yes, he got a burner account.

CHRIS HAYES: He's like, yeah, he's got, yeah, he had a burner account. But I guess it's, do you do that? I guess it's irresistible. I do the same thing, obviously I'm not a basketball player, but I do the same thing. I look on Twitter to see what people thought of my show.

ENES KANTER: Right, right, right.

CHRIS HAYES: And if someone says like, "Oh, that sucked." I get, it hurts my feelings and at some point it's like, I shouldn't care. Who cares? Why would I get so upset? I have the same feeling about professional basketball players. It's like, you're Kevin Durant, dude, you're better than all the basically five basketball players on earth. Why do you care if you know Tyler225 said that you took a s----- shot down the stretch.

ENES KANTER: Yo, I saw some players get on Twitter at half time. So coach comes in, right?

CHRIS HAYES: Oh my God.

ENES KANTER: So we have a 15 minute break, Coach comes in, talks around probably around like five, six minutes and then he leaves. So we have like seven, eight, nine minutes to just rest or just go out and shoot a little bit. I saw some players get on their phone and get on their Twitter to see what people said about them and at half time. And they go out there, they play the worst second half.

CHRIS HAYES: Right, because you can't be thinking that way.

ENES KANTER: No, you can't be stay focused because it gets, there are lots of haters. I will say this, haters going to hate, you can't do nothing about it. Haters going to hate. You just got to be avoid the outside talk outside distraction. Just focus on what you need to focus on and it's, and people's, someone of people really got, I don't know, I'll say no life because some of the comments are so harsh and because, and they go so far, they go like, they start cussing, they start saying some crazy stuff. I'm like, this is too much, man. This is just a sport, we try to entertain you guys.

CHRIS HAYES: Yeah, I mean it's interesting, so you, that it's so fascinating to hear you say that because what I hear from you is that there's actually a generational change in the nine years you've been in the league. The younger players are more addicted to Twitter.

ENES KANTER: Oh yeah.

CHRIS HAYES: They're more affected by the feedback there and it actually makes their life worse. They're more in their heads then say players your age who didn't sort of come up with that.

ENES KANTER: They will affect your actually the next game because it's in your head. You're going to lose sleep over it, you're going to stay awake. You're going to think and think more so that you actually, you're going to be depressed for the next game. And basketball is all about mental game, right? So you're just going to go out there, it's going to affect your game. It's going to be in your head, stuck in your head, and you're going to have a bad game. So it just like, you know what, just don't get on Twitter, man, just go out there and just play your game and don't worry about anything else.

CHRIS HAYES: You've been in the league nine years. How old are you now, Enes?

ENES KANTER: 27.

CHRIS HAYES: Oh man.

ENES KANTER: Got an old man.

CHRIS HAYES: Yeah, I mean, buddy, I mean, I know you're in a league with like, you've got Ja Morant bearing down on you, who's like 19 years old and probably feels like half your age. But do you think about what you want to, I mean, it's a crazy situation, right? You're going to be an American citizen. You're essentially exiled from your country of birth, from your family there. You can't go back to the place you were born and at some point, you're going to be an ex-NBA player and still have most of the rest of your life ahead of you. What do you think about that?

ENES KANTER: So I got actually two things already. When I'm done with my basketball career, I want to be an actually WWE wrestler.

CHRIS HAYES: Really?

ENES KANTER: I'm not joking. I swear.

CHRIS HAYES: I think you'd be good at that. I think you've got a knack for it.

ENES KANTER: I'm actually, I already talking to some of the people and like they say, "Hey, let's go." I'm like, "Hey man, let's go easy. I got to finish basketball first." But I think it's just, it's all about, acting, talking trash, trolling people, and just going out there and have fun. And so I feel like this is my, this is my life.

CHRIS HAYES: And what's the other thing?

ENES KANTER: Second thing, you might be shocked, but I might thinking about getting in politics.

CHRIS HAYES: Really?

ENES KANTER: Yes.

CHRIS HAYES: American politics.

ENES KANTER: American politics.

CHRIS HAYES: That's fascinating. What are you, what are the things that you sort of were, how would you describe your politics?

ENES KANTER: I would just say this, I, just because I sit down with so many senators, so many Congressmen and Congresswomen and everybody. I was like, you know what, I'm just, why not just become a one? I don't know, maybe I'm thinking so crazy, but I'm like, you know what, maybe just why not become a one?

CHRIS HAYES: Well Enes, I think you've got a very bright future ahead of you as both a wrestler and a Senator. Enes Kanter is a center for the Boston Celtics. He's played in the NBA for nine years. That was such a delightful and fascinating, a fascinating conversation Enes, thank you so much.

ENES KANTER: I appreciate it man. Thank you so much.

CHRIS HAYES: Once again, my great thanks to Enes Kanter for making time for the podcast amidst the NBA basketball season. It's not even his off season. If you like that conversation, you might also like the conversation we had with Howard Bryant, remarkable sports writer called “The Uneven Playing Field with Howard Bryant.” As always, we love to hear your feedback. Tweet us with the #WITHpod. Email us at withpod@gmail.com.

“Why is this Happening,” is presented by MSNBC and NBC News produced by the "All In" team and features music by Eddie Cooper. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here by going to nbcnews.com/whyisthishappening.

Related Links

"Evening an uneven professional playing field with Howard Bryant" (Jan. 24, 2020)