China Pulls Boston Celtics Games After Player Calls Xi 'Dictator' in Support of Tibet

Chinese broadcaster Tencent is no longer showing current or archived Boston Celtics games following Celtics' player Enes Kanter's "dictator" comment against Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Along with calling Xi a "dictator," Kanter also caused problems between the NBA and Tencent when he wore shoes decorated with the words "Free Tibet" during the Celtics game Wednesday night.

"More than 150 Tibetan people have burned themselves alive!! — hoping that such an act would raise more awareness about Tibet. I stand with my Tibetan brothers and sisters, and I support their calls for Freedom," Kanter wrote on Twitter.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin called Kanter's comments "wrong."

"The player you mentioned was clout-chasing, trying to get attention with Tibet-related issues. His wrong remarks are not worth refuting," Wenbin said.

The Wednesday night game was not broadcast in China, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said, "It's unclear whether we'll be back on CCTV television in China this year."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Enes Kanter “dictator” comment against Chinese President
Chinese broadcast platform Tencent won't show Boston Celtic games following player Enes Kanter' called Chinese President Xi Jinping a “dictator." Above, Kanter yells during the Boston Celtics Media Day on September 27, 2021, in Canton, Massachusetts. Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

The league and China have had a damaged relationship since October 2019, when then-Houston general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of government protesters in Hong Kong and sparked what essentially became a blackout for the league in the world's most populous nation.

NBA games were eventually returned to Tencent's lineup but not state television provider CCTV, except for two games during the 2020 NBA Finals. Tencent did not offer Philadelphia's games last season, Morey's first with the 76ers.

China's Communist leaders are extremely sensitive to anything they view as outside interference in domestic political affairs. After Morey's tweet, the fallout was immense and sponsors—following CCTV's lead—pulled their backing of the NBA China Games days later between the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets. The NBA estimated that the strained relationship with the Chinese and lost broadcast rights meant the league missed out on about $400 million in revenue during the 2019-20 season alone.

For now, the fallout from Kanter's comments does not appear to be as severe as the immediate response to Morey's tweet, which was quickly deleted. Other NBA games played Wednesday were offered on Tencent, and the three games on Thursday's schedule appeared on the provider's listings.

Kanter is from Turkey and has long been an outspoken critic of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Turkish government. Kanter has said his passport was revoked by the Turkish government in 2017.

It's not just the NBA that is finding itself dealing with difficult issues when it comes to relationships with China. A number of groups have called for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and others, to boycott this winter's Beijing Games in support of human rights issues.

The USOPC plans to send full teams to China for the February Olympics.

"We expect that China is going to be a unique situation to really allow sport to speak for unity and for global peace and for the rights of people around the world," said Susanne Lyons, who chairs the USOPC board of directors. "That really is the place where sport can make its stand."