LONDON (Reuters) - NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he supported Turkish player Enes Kanter’s decision to skip New York Knicks’ game against Washington Wizards in London on Thursday because of fears over his safety.
The 26-year-old center has been an outspoken critic of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his human rights record and was indicted by a Turkish court last year on charges of belonging to an armed terrorist group, which he denies.
Kanter said he had been receiving death threats because of his support for U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, wanted in Turkey on suspicion of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016. Gulen denies the accusation.
“I will say that there is nothing more important to me than the security of our players,” Silver said in a news conference before the start of the game at London’s O2 Arena.
“We take very seriously the threat that he received even if it was just on social media.”
Istanbul’s state prosecutor has sought an Interpol “red notice” to detain Kanter and requested his extradition, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said on Thursday.
Interpol declined to comment.
Kanter said he decided to miss his team’s regular-season game in London because of fears he may be harmed by Erdogan supporters.
Speaking to BBC’s Newsbeat on Thursday he said: “The Turkish government put a red notice under my name with Interpol when my team was on the flight, still in the air,” he said.
“So if I went to London, as soon as I left the plane they would send me back to Turkey.”
Silver said he sympathized with the player’s predicament.
“My stance is I think it is very unfortunate that Enes is not here but I absolutely understand why he elected not to come,” he said.
“We live in a world where there are significant issues that he is dealing with. I recognize that because the NBA is global business we have to take notice of these issues.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Chopra