Basketball star Enes Kanter Freedom talks peace with sport in Jerusalem

The basketball star known for playing for the Boston Celtics and other teams is in Jerusalem for his Enes Freedom basketball camp promoting coexistence.

 Enes Kanter Freedom is seen meeting with kids at his basketball camp at the YMCA in Jerusalem. (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
Enes Kanter Freedom is seen meeting with kids at his basketball camp at the YMCA in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)

“It doesn’t matter what your religion, background, culture or skin color is; the most important thing in life is leaving your differences on the table and trying to find what we have in common,” said Enes Kanter Freedom.

The Turkish NBA star is in Jerusalem for his Enes Freedom Basketball camp, where he met a diverse group of Jewish and Arab athletes from various religious backgrounds.

He was at the Jerusalem International YMCA’s sport center on Sunday, wearing a black shirt showing a hand with an Islamic crescent shaking hands with one that has a star of David, symbolizing the kind of coexistence he was promoting.

The camp, which is opening in partnership with Bnai Zion and Athletes for Israel, as well as Together Vouch for Each Other US, featured coaches and other figures from the basketball community.

There was a buzz on the coast at Sunday’s event as many gathered to see the arrival of Freedom, who towered over the public.

Yoseph Haddad, founder and CEO of Together Vouch for Each Other, gave a short talk to the assembled kids who had come for the camp. He described growing up in the North and discussed how sports can be something that brings people together. He pointed to Haifa as an example of a mixed city.

“Sport brought all of us together; in sport you don’t have politics.”

“Sport brought all of us together; in sport you don’t have politics.”

Yoseph Haddad
 Enes Kanter Freedom is seen meeting with kids at his basketball camp at the YMCA in Jerusalem. (credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN) Enes Kanter Freedom is seen meeting with kids at his basketball camp at the YMCA in Jerusalem. (credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)

“Sport brought all of us together; in sport you don’t have politics.”  

Freedom has been enjoying the cuisine of the Holy City and visiting its sites. He has met local politicians and activists. He is well known abroad for his skills on the court but also for his activism.

He is an outspoken critic of China’s human rights abuses and of authoritarianism in Turkey. He has been banned by the Turkish regime. More recently he has been outspoken about the case of Brittney Griner, a US basketball player detained in Russia.

“This is very emotional for me! I have been planning this basketball camp for years. Today for the first time ever, I had a basketball camp in Jerusalem. Muslims, Jews, Christians, ISRAELI and PALESTINIAN kids came together to talk one language, PEACE! Bringing Peace to Middle East.”

Enes Kanter Freedom

On social media he has talked about his experiences here, showing photos of himself on the court with the youth at the basketball camp.

“This is very emotional for me! I have been planning this basketball camp for years. Today for the first time ever, I had a basketball camp in Jerusalem. Muslims, Jews, Christians, ISRAELI and PALESTINIAN kids came together to talk one language, PEACE! Bringing Peace to Middle East.” He will be bringing this message to others in Israel in coming days.

When he strode onto the YMCA basketball court he was greeted with cheers and clapping. The basketball coach told the kids to “bring it in” and all the youth put their arms up for a unified cheer before going to practice and listening to Freedom.

He went over some jab steps and shot fakes briefly with the youth before asking the kids to gather around and describe their hopes and dreams.

One by one he threw the basketball to the kids who wanted to answer, making sure everyone got their time. The youth said they wanted world peace and to end world hunger. Some discussed equality and coexistence. Many said they wanted to be athletes, but one said he wanted to be a pilot.

“I want people that come from different places to get along,” said one kid. “I want people to stop littering,” said another.

Some of the attendees also asked Freedom what he had wanted to be when he was a kid. He said he wanted to be an astronaut and still had hopes of going to space one day. With his large size, he joked, he was too big for a space capsule.

The real passion for Mr. Freedom is his activism

“It started back in my school, I was the tallest and I was against bullies,” he said.

He stressed the importance of education.

“It is important to educate yourself and then when you have that platform you can talk about peace or racism, then people will listen; once you have that platform, once you’re educated, you’re a teacher, you can educate millions of people. Even when I was a little kid I wanted to be the voice of the innocent,” he said.

He stressed the importance of young people preparing themselves for the future, so that if one day they get to the point of having a platform due to their fame or influence they can influence others. This is what Freedom has been doing, speaking to his hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, educating people about causes that matter.