Not long ago, my son Keaton — one of the world's most devoted Oklahoma City Thunder fans — met center Enes Kanter at a local Arby's. Keaton took a selfie with Kanter and was quoted in an NBA.com feature about Thunder players serving up "acts of kindness":
“There’s something unique about the team and how the guys are committed to the community by getting out there and doing work,” said Keaton Ross, a student at Oklahoma Christian.
I'm only a casual Thunder fan — baseball is my sport — but I'm fascinated with the 25-year-old Kanter, who must boast one of the NBA's top senses of humor. For example, Kanter tweeted this last year after a Thunder beat writer from The Oklahoman left to cover the Golden State Warriors — Kevin Durant's new team — for the San Jose Mercury News.
More recently, though, the "Turkish-born big man" has been making serious national headlines. And even though it may not be clear from news reports, there is a strong religion angle. More on that in a moment.
But first, the crucial background: As a helpful, big-picture Wall Street Journal report notes today, Turkey invalidated the NBA player's passport earlier this month as part of a global arrest strategy:
ISTANBUL — Turkey is expanding efforts abroad to capture opponents by canceling their passports to force foreign governments to send them back, Turkish officials said, describing a strategy that nearly netted an NBA player this month.
The efforts accelerated this spring in what one of the officials said is part of a counterterrorism campaign focused on Turkish followers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a critic of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan whose network Turkey classifies as a terrorist group.
Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter told The Wall Street Journal he narrowly escaped a government attempt to force him back to Turkey after his passport was abruptly invalidated during a multination charity tour that included stops at schools affiliated with Mr. Gulen’s movement.
The NBA player, a 25-year-old legal U.S. resident, has been outspoken in his support for Mr. Gulen and criticism of Mr. Erdogan. Mr. Kanter was allowed to return following the intervention of U.S. and NBA officials.
What is Turkey's problem with Gulen? More from the WSJ: