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Celtics Games Pulled in China After Enes Kanter Criticizes 'Dictator' Xi Over Tibet

Celtics games were removed from the Chinese app Tencent Sports on Wednesday after center Enes Kanter posted a video voicing his support of Tibetan independence. 

Highlights from the Celtics' double overtime loss to the Knicks also appear to be unavailable on the app, according to multiple reports. Upcoming games appear to be unavailable for live stream.

"Brutal dictator of China, Xi Jinping, I have a message for you and your henchmen,” Kanter said in the video, which was posted to Twitter and nearly three minutes in length. “Free Tibet, free Tibet, free Tibet.”

China has ruled the western region of Tibet since 1951, taking control in what it has called a "peaceful liberation." Challenges to China's control of Tibet has often sparked tension within the region. As recently as this week, protestors disrupted the flame-lighting ceremony for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in Greece approaching the just-lit torch with a Tibetan flag and a banner that read “No Genocide Games.”

Kanter's video is the latest instance of the tension between the NBA and China, one of the league's largest markets. In the fall of 2019, Daryl Morey, then the Rockets general manager, created a stir by tweeting a message encouraging his followers to “stand with Hong Kong,” an independent region that for months in 2020 had seen pro-democratic protests against Beijing.

In the wake of Morey's tweet, which was quickly deleted, CCTV stopped broadcasting NBA games. Commissioner Adam Silver said the issue had cost the league a “substantial” amount, which he described as “probably less than $400 million.”

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CCTV still hasn't resumed regular streaming of NBA games. 

Tencent has broadly resumed its broadcasts of games, but with Morey now working for the 76ers, Philadelphia's games are unavailable to stream on the platform.

Kanter, who was born in Switzerland to Turkish parents and grew up in Turkey, has, for years, also criticized Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Kanter was indicted in Turkey in 2018 on charges of belonging to an armed terrorist group, an allegation he denies, and his Turkish passport has been revoked. Members of his family have also faced legal repercussions as a result of the center's criticism.

In the video posted Wednesday, Kanter wore a T-shirt featuring an image of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader whom Beijing views as a criminal separatist. In another post, Kanter displayed the sneakers he wore to his team's season-opener, which featured Tibetan flag motifs and the words “Free Tibet.”

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said at a briefing Thursday that Kanter's “falsehoods are not worth refuting” and that China would “never accept those attacks and smears against Tibet’s development and progress.”

Kanter did not play in Boston's season opener on Wednesday.

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