By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Media day is a day for players to shine off the court. Enes Kanter did not disappoint on Monday.
The new Celtics big man won over Boston reporters before he even stepped to the podium, bringing out a tray of cookies for everyone to enjoy. And there is nothing media members love more than free food.
Kanter did not make the cookies himself, but the act of giving is in his DNA. Kanter was busy over the summer, hosting 50 basketball camps in 30 states. He hopes to increase both of those numbers after his first season in Boston.
“Last year, we had a team meeting and everyone was talking about how they’d go play Fortnite all day or go to the beach and hang out all day. I said that was a waste of time, we have so much where we’re able to go out and inspire millions,” he explained on Monday. “So I asked my manager what the record was for an NBA player for the most basketball camps. He told me it was only nine, and that made me pretty sad.
“So I organized 50 camps in 30 states. When we do basketball camps, we don’t just play basketball. We talk about nutrition, anti-bullying, tradition, and respecting each other. It turned out to be amazing, so next year we’re going to try to beat our record,” he said. “We’re going to try to do 60 in 40 states.”
It’s refreshing to see an NBA player use his notoriety for such good, but not everyone is a fan of Kanter. He’s a wanted man in his home country of Turkey because he’s been so outspoken against their government. His Turkish passport was revoked in 2017, and he’ll be arrested if he returns home because of his criticism against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“It’s pretty sad because I just had a basketball camp a couple of days ago and the Turkish consuls tried to cancel the camp,” he explained. “It was sad because, why? Why would you do that?”
Given all that is going on with him and his home country, Kanter uses basketball to get away from it all, if only for a few hours at a time. And the situation in Turkey is what motivates him to give back so much.
“It’s my escape, every time I step on the floor. I know if I bring this conversation, it would be very selfish of me. I can’t let those off the court affect me or my teammates. I put my game mask on every time,” he said. “But every time I leave the floor, it’s like the war starts again. So I asked what I can do, how can I help, or am I doing enough? Those questions are always in my mind.”
OK, that was the heavy part of Kanter’s session with Boston reporters. Now we can get back to the lighter stuff, which includes a post-basketball career in wrestling. Kanter is a big fan of the WWE, and even made an appearance when the show hit New York earlier this summer. He took that opportunity to taunt Knicks fans — his former fan base — revealing a Celtics jersey under his suit.
And about that Celtics jersey; Kanter will be wearing the No. 11, which belonged to Kyrie Irving for the previous two seasons. Of course, Irving is now in Brooklyn, unable to make sure no one else will ever wear that number for the Celtics. So here is Kanter, happy to take the double 1’s.
Asked if he was offered the jersey or if he requested it, Kanter cleared the air.
“I took it,” he said adamantly.
He was, of course, joking. And he was pretty proud of that one too.
“It’s a good joke. First of all, it was my old jersey number when I was in Oklahoma City and after I came here, this jersey number was a guy who shall not be named,” he said, a quote that will win over Boston fans even more. “But it was fun, because I have to bring some positive energy, not just to the team but the whole city and state. It was fun because I saw people were taping and writing their name and stuff.
“But I respect the guy a lot; he’s a basketball player and one of the best point guards in the league,” he said of Irv…. he who shall not be named. “It was fun, because now the fans are pumped and ready to go. Should be fun.”
Kanter comes to Boston after spending part of last season with the Portland Trail Blazers, who made it to the Western Conference Finals before being swept by the Golden State Warriors. His stint with the Blazers was refreshing after he spent a year-and-a-half with the Knicks — a team that had no desire to win while they employed the center.
That was tough on Kanter, and didn’t go along with his approach on the floor. He used Monday as an opportunity to take another jab at his former team — and one of Boston’s rivals.
“I’m a basketball player and competitor, so if someone tells me to go out there not to win, that’s not in my blood,” he said. “I’m going out there to win every game, play hard and give 100 percent every time. If someone tells me to do the opposite, I’m not going to accept it. It doesn’t matter who is telling me — the org, ownership, fans, this and that. I just want to go out there and win. That’s one of the biggest reasons I picked the Celtics, because they never tank.”
Kanter is a gifted offensive player with questions on the defensive end, so there are some queries as to what he can give Brad Stevens on a nightly basis. But it’s clear that he’s a positive voice in the locker room, one who loves to give back to whichever community he’s in.
Plus, free cookies. Can’t beat that.