The Latest from Priority Sports
The Latest from Priority Sports
NEW YORK CITY -- Enes Kanter is feigning embarrassment—and tears.
The hulking 7-footer from Turkey falls to his knees and puts his hands on his head in dismay. The New York Knicks big man has been upset in the finals of a knockout tournament at his own basketball camp in the Big Apple over the summer.
The winner? A middle-schooler who’s suddenly the most popular kid in the gym.
“I was going to make the finals. And who's ever in the finals, I was going to lose it on purpose,” Enes recalls to CloseUp360. “This kid was so happy. I got on my knees, I started crying, they were going nuts. It was awesome to see all the kids were cheering for their teammates, for their friends.
“And then some people were coming in and talking trash to me. They said, ‘Hey, you suck.’ I'm, like, ‘Easy man, easy.’” … We would talk so much trash to each other with the kids. It’s fun because they love it.”
Enes, of course, knows a thing or two about trolling; he’s one of the NBA’s most notorious in that regard. But for all the playful banter—well, mostly playful, anyway—that he’s dished out on the court and online, he took back plenty from kids throughout the offseason.
Where most NBA players might host a clinic or two during the summer, Enes organized what is likely a record for a pro in a three-month span: 16 camps. That’s right—16—in 16 different cities.
At every stop, Enes and his business manager, Hank Fetic, spent at least a second day doing a community service in town, such as working with foster care kids, putting on a food drive, stopping by an orphanage, visiting schools and local businesses, or meeting with local fans and NBA players. In some cities, they did three days of camps and three days of outreach.
In Houston, three kids drained three-pointers over Enes consecutively, in a sequence that was caught on a camera phone and quickly went viral.
“I was guarding this kid and then he made a shot on me,” he says. “And the next guy made a shot on me, next guy made a shot on me and the kids were going crazy. And in the video, some kid came up to me and said, ‘You are trash.’ It was all over on ESPN. It was all everywhere.”
When it comes to acting on his personal credo—”Live For Others”—that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Where once Enes would respond to questions from the media about his goals with individual stats and accolades, he’s since grappled with bigger questions of his own, both on and off the court.
What can I do to make my teammates better? he wondered.
“And then I was asking myself, ‘How can I make my community better, how can I make my city better?’” he recalls. “So then after that, I’m, like, ‘Okay, this is the part that I’m just not living for myself—I’m living for everybody around me.’”
Enes' efforts to “Live For Others” have spanned the globe. Between 2016 and 2017, he hosted basketball camps in a combined 21 different countries.
But after the Turkish government cancelled his passport in 2017 due to his outspokenness and criticism of the powers that be in his homeland, Enes decided to keep it local this offseason. His travel schedule, though, was no less ambitious.
“I feel like if I just go to the beach and just like do nothing, then I feel like it’s a waste of time,” he says. “So you know what? Let’s just go and do a lot of camps with a lot of kids, and it was fun.”
Granted, Enes had his fun in the sun, too—while in Hawaii for a camp, of course
Though the camp tour began as Enes’ brainchild, it became a reality with help from Hank.
“In February, Enes came to Chicago to visit me and said, 'Let's make camps in 10 cities,’” he says. “I panicked because we only had three months and I had a lot of other things to focus on. We ended up doing 16. … When he was telling me, I rolled my eyes thinking we probably couldn't even do three on such short notice, but somehow we managed.”
“He was saying, ‘Okay, let’s go here, let’s go there,’” Enes recounts. “I said, ‘Oh, hey, why don’t we go to this place? Why don’t we go here?’ And we just kept adding places.”
Armed with a massive platform and a mantra, Enes aimed to impact his campers beyond the game.
“You can play basketball and everything—it's so cool—but how can I change lives?” Enes says. “How can I make other lives better? How can I make my community's life better? Because God gave you so much. It's an appreciation. You've got opportunities to just inspire a lot of people.”
Enes and Hank devised a routine during their tour that fit into the lengths of their stops, which ranged from two days apiece up to six. The first day would start with Enes working on his own game, going through two-plus hour regimens of lifting and hoops before camp began. Next came visits with fans and celebrities alike, followed by the main attraction—the camp itself—which also included Enes preaching to the kids that they put their educations first. The second day would feature charity work or a community engagement of some sort.
“They were really shocked because like an NBA player just came there to visit them, talking about education,” Enes says. “They're, like, 'Okay, this is a little weird.' But for me, of course, I said the number one thing was just education. So that's why wherever we go, basketball is fun and everything, but right now for you guys the important thing is just stay in school.”
There were plenty of other highlights along the cross-country tour. In Des Moines, Enes got a visit from Doug McDermott, his former teammate with the Knicks. In Los Angeles, his close friend, actor Terry Crews, stopped by to hang. And in Atlanta, Enes opted into his Knicks contract for the season.
But it was a trip to his old stomping grounds in Oklahoma City that left the biggest mark.
“It's OKC, so there's no traffic, right? So we pull up to the gym and there's traffic outside of the gym,” Enes says. “I'm, like, 'Okay, uh oh, this is gonna get ugly.' So we walked into the gym. The capacity was 300 people, but with all the parents and everybody, it was around 1,100 people. There was no place to bounce the ball, nothing.”
Enes’ camp tour took him to places of all corners and sizes in his adopted home country. From big cities like Seattle and Miami, to more suburban locales like Boca Raton, Florida and Alpharetta, Georgia, to the tiny town of Poteau, Oklahoma (population: fewer than 9,000 people), he found two languages wherever he went: English and basketball.
“Almost everybody in the world knows English, right?” Enes says. “It’s like, you go everywhere, we’re talking one language, and it’s basketball. Everybody loves the NBA, everybody loves basketball, and it’s growing and growing a lot. And then all you do is just go there and just put a smile on a kid’s face—that’s it.”
In truth, if Enes were just in it for the appreciation, he wouldn’t have to leave New York. He already has a huge following there, and can be almost anywhere in the world while he basks in the adulation on Twitter.
“I'm made for New York because all the social media, the fans love it, man,” he says. “Every time I go on there, they're telling me, 'Hey, you are the king of New York, man. Don't worry. We love you.’ It's just so much fun.”
But Enes isn’t one to rest on his laurels. This summer, he took new Knicks coach David Fizdale’s advice and stretched his game out to the three-point line amid his trek across America. Next summer, he plans to take the game and his message back on the road, with Alaska, Montana and the Dakotas—places where “none of the NBA players have been to”—among potential destinations.
“Different states that people don't really go there as much, because they got people there, too,” Enes says. “They got kids there, they got NBA basketball fans there.”
Enes’ ambitions extend far beyond basketball camps. In two years, he will be an American citizen. At some point long after that, when he’s “maybe past 45, 50,” he hopes to get into politics.
But first, the 26-year-old has another sport to tackle, one for which his skills as a heel are perfectly suited.
“I think when I'm done with my basketball career, when I'm 34, 35, I want to join the WWE. Seriously,” he says. “That is my love, man—talking trash, trolling people. I know it's fake, but I really do want to join it.”
To that end, Enes is well on his way. In July, he not only met The Undertaker, his favorite wrestler, at Madison Square Garden, but was also treated to the legend’s famous eye roll.
Not long after that, Enes met with WWE impresario Paul Heyman, who extended him an open invitation to the sport, along with a nickname: “Turkish Delight.”
“I'm not sure yet,” he says, laughing. “I have to think on that one.”
One thing he doesn’t have to worry about? Faking it in the ring. As many of his campers can attest, Enes is already a practiced and capable actor.