NBA Star Enes Kanter Freedom in Israel to Run Basketball Camp   - The Jewish Voice
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NBA Star Enes Kanter Freedom in Israel to Run Basketball Camp  

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The camp in Jerusalem will welcome Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Druze kids

By: Marvin Azrak

Turkish NBA player and human rights activist Enes Kanter Freedom landed in Israel on Thursday to lead a basketball camp in Jerusalem for Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Druze girls and boys.

The former Utah Jazz, OKC Thunder, New York Knicks, Portland Trailblazers(twice), and Boston center, who is currently a free agent, announced on social media that he’s arrived  in Tel Aviv to show his support for his own Unity Basketball Camp at the YMCA in Jerusalem.

On the ball in Israel, August 2022. Photo by Josh Hasten

The camp for kids 10-15 is being run along with the non-profit groups Athletes for Israel, Bnai Zion and Together Vouch for Each Other US, and with help from Tamir Goodman, an American-Israeli former professional basketball player and now coach who was dubbed “The Jewish Jordan” by Sports Illustrated in 1999, will help them  focus on will “focus on fundamental basketball skills, strength and conditioning, faith-driven values, and life skills,” according to the press release.

The camp is open to 40 aspiring basketball beginners, including local residents and tourists, and will run from July 26-August 5. Assistants include high-profile coaches from the NBA and others from the NCAA D1 Auburn Men’s basketball team.

The camp is geared towards the pursuit of peace between the Israelis and Muslims.

Arab-Israeli activist Yoseph Haddad, who heads Together Vouch, will also speak to attendees about his experience playing sports as a child with friends under other religions.

The camp will additionally be filmed for an upcoming docuseries and be advertised as a model for how basketball can be a catalyst to showing the sides can peacefully coexist in the same intense environment.

Helping train kids at a youth basketball camp in Israel, August 2022. Photo by Josh Hasten.

“I believe that we can use sports to promote tolerance, respect, and coexistence,” said Freedom, who has played for five NBA teams since entering the league in 2011 as the third overall draft pick. “By bringing children together on a basketball court, I know we can show them the importance of respecting people of all faiths while building camaraderie and developing relationships.”

He continued , “I played in the NBA for 11 years as an observant Muslim, shoulder to shoulder with my Jewish and Christian brothers. We respected each other’s faith and I learned a lot from them and about them and their faith. I am looking forward to setting a positive example for the children of Jerusalem.”

Kanter Freedom was born on May 20, 1992 in Zürich, Switzerland as Enes Kanter. Kanter’s parents are indeed  Turkish. At the age of 17, Kanter moved to the United States to play basketball. He attended Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada, and then Mountain State Academy in Beckley, West Virginia to get an education especially as an immigrant, but neither school allowed him to play high school basketball because of his contract with Nike while he played basketball professionally.

After graduating high school, Kanter signed with Kentucky but was ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA due to the fact he was receiving $33,000 from Fenerbahçe in excess benefits from playing for them overseas. However, Kanter’s stardom as a high schooler being a boy in a league amongst men playing in Euros was too much to overlook and he was drafted third overall by the Jazz in the 2011 NBA draft. But it was in 2013 that Enes burst onto the scene as he led the team in scoring three times and rebounding four times, and scored in double-figures 22 times.

In 70 games (two starts), he averaged 7.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per game including a 23 point, 22 rebound performance in March of that year as they defeated the Charlotte Bobcats 98-68, but more importantly a star had been born. But if 2013 was eye-opening, Kanter captivated Jazz fans by appearing in 80 games of the 82 regular season games (37 starts), averaging 12.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Kanter was enjoying a different “Freedom” back then playing the sport he loved, but soon learned the business side of the National Basketball association.

On February 19, 2015, Kanter was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a three-team deal that also involved the Detroit Pistons. OKC was expecting a rim protector but the change of scenery seemed to unlock his scoring touch, and he became the first Thunder player to score 30 points and get 20 rebounds in a game, going for 33-20 in a 120-115 win over the Trailblazers on April 6 2016, and ironically enough rewarded the Thunder for keeping him after they matched the 4 year $70 million offer sheet the Blazers gave to the restricted free agent the previous offseason. Later that year, Kanter got his first taste of playoff basketball, and in game three of the Western conference quarterfinals against the Dallas Mavericks, Kanter recorded a playoff career-high 21 points and a game-high eight rebounds in a 131–102 win, claiming a 2–1 series lead.

Two days later, Kanter helped the Thunder go up 3–1 with 28 points on 12-of-13 shooting, setting a playoff career high for the second straight night, essentially salting the series away. Enes was an instrumental part of the Thunder going as far as pushing the 73-9 Golden State Warriors to seven games, before their infamous 3-1 collapse in the Western conference finals.

For what it was worth, Enes’s trade value skyrocketed from his consistency and he was included in the blockbuster deal on September 25, 2017, when he was traded, along with Doug McDermott and a 2018 second-round pick, to the New York Knicks in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. Enes embraced New York and the fans loved him back during a season where they went 29-53, as Kanter had more double-doubles (32) than the team did in wins.

The narrative surrounding New York’s #1 center was whether he could help lead the youngsters around him now entitled as a veteran entering his eighth season in the league. It started swell with him becoming the first Knick since Zach Randolph in 2007-08 to begin the season with three straight triple-doubles and ultimately extended the streak to five maintaining his elite play from the previous campaign, however it was at a crossroads with the direction the team was going in, and eventually Kanter was demoted to the bench in exchange for more youngsters having an opportunity to showcase their skills, before he was waived and bought out by the organization.

Answering questions at a youth basketball camp in Israel, August 2022. Photo by Josh Hasten.

Portland took a flier on their long coveted asset and used Kanter off the bench for their playoff run to the second round, before Enes signed with Boston in the offseason for a year in what was supposed to be a two season $10 million pact before he was dealt to Portland once again after averaging 8.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1 assist.. In the playoffs, he scored a total of 50 points in 11 games, averaging 4.5 points per game and it was the last time he’s been viewed as an effective NBA player before his political views overtook his life.

This past February, the Houston Rockets waived Kanter Freedom. Enes alleges he was waived because of his views about the Chinese government. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver denied this claim saying “I made it absolutely clear to Freedom that it was completely within his right to speak out on issues that he was passionate about. So now here’s Freedom making the most of his current teamless situation by using his “Freedom” of speech along with Tamir Goodman, who also currently runs a summer overnight basketball camp in Jerusalem and has coached over 5,000 kids in programs across the US with Israeli former NBA player Omri Casspi. Earlier this month, Goodman partnered with The Amar’e Stoudemire Peace Camp, founded by the former six-time NBA All-Star, to host a group of young players from various religions and backgrounds in Jerusalem.

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