NBA commissioner Adam Silver says he supports Turkish center Enes Kanter's decision to stay in New York while the Knicks play an international game against the Washington Wizards in London on Thursday.
The Turkish government is seeking an international arrest warrant for Kanter, claiming he's a member of a terror organization. The Knicks big man has been an outspoken critic of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, calling him a "lunatic" while supporting his rival, Fethullah Gulen.
"There's nothing more important to me as the commissioner of the league than the security and the safety of our players," said Silver, according to ESPN's Mark Woods. "We take very seriously the threats that he's received - even if it's just people on social media. I support Enes as a player in this league. I support the platform that our players have to speak out on issues that are important to them."
The Turkish government believes Gulen was a behind a failed coup d'etat to overthrow Erdogan in 2016. It later accused Kanter of providing Gulen with funding. Both Gulen and Kanter have denied the claims.
"My stance is I think it's very unfortunate Enes Kanter is not here with the New York Knicks," Silver said. "I absolutely understand his reasoning why he elected not to come. Certainly, there was never a suggestion from the league that he was not welcome to come on this trip. But we live in a world where these are really significant issues that he's dealing with. I recognize for the NBA that, by virtue of a fact we're a global business, we have to pay attention to these issues as well."
Kanter fears he'd be killed by Turkish agents if he made the trip overseas, or be sent back to his home country after its government revoked his passport in 2017.
"The Turkish government is very famous for hunting down people who talk against the government and Erdogan," Kanter told the BBC ahead of the Knicks' international matchup.
The 26-year-old currently holds a green card and plans to become an American citizen in 2021. He moved to the U.S. in 2009 and was drafted to the NBA in 2011.
Kanter is expected to be back in the lineup when the Knicks host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 21.