‘More than a game’: Turkish NBA player Enes Kanter crosses U.S. border after years

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Enes Kanter wore his heart on his chest for the Boston Celtics’ Christmas Day game in Toronto.

The Turkish centre arrived at Scotiabank Arena wearing a black T-shirt that read “Freedom for All.”

Toronto hosted the Celtics on Wednesday for the Raptors’ first Christmas Day game in franchise history, and the fact Kanter was able to cross the border at all was big news.

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“We landed and they were like, ‘OK, here’s the moment!'” Kanter told reporters prior to tipoff. “And people were asking me if I was nervous and I’m just like, ‘No, I’m just excited.’ It was really good.”

Kanter is an outspoken critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government for its treatment of residents. The Turkish government revoked his passport in 2017, and so he had not travelled outside the United States for years.

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He was able to travel Wednesday after discussions with the Canadian government, and in a column published earlier this week in The Globe and Mail, Kanter thanked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.

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“Coming here and now just stepping outside of America for the first time in years, it’s definitely more than a game for me,” Kanter said Wednesday. “It’s definitely a blessing to play on a Christmas Day, especially in Toronto, the defending champions.

“But it feels good to be out. It feels good to be free, it feels good to be enjoying this time with my teammates, for sure. It’s amazing.”

Kanter said the Celtics had been working on securing safe travel for him since the schedule was released at the beginning of the season. He said he wasn’t 100 per cent sure he’d get the green light however until Dec. 23.

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“One of my friends reached out to Trudeau’s office yesterday and he was vacationing in Costa Rica or something like that, and they said, ‘We all good’ and told me not to worry about it and that everything’s gonna be smooth,” Kanter said.

Kanter, who hosted 50 basketball camps last year in the U.S., said he’d love to host two or three in Canada this summer.

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“So now I have a travel document and now I’m planning to come here to do a basketball camp in Toronto and Ottawa and when I run my basketball camp, I’m planning on meeting with Trudeau,” he said.

“(Canada) is one of the best countries in the world, but obviously I cannot give back in any way but basketball, so that’s why I’m gonna come back here to hold a basketball camp.”

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The 27-year-old big man is averaging 7.8 points and 7.3 rebounds for the Celtics this season.