ANKARA, May 14 (Reuters) - Outspoken Turkish basketball player Enes Kanter’s Portland Trail Blazers reached the NBA’s Western Conference finals starting on Tuesday, but for the first time the series will not be televised in Turkey where he is accused of having terrorist links.
S Sport, the main TV broadcaster of National Basketball Association games in Turkey, will ignore the conference final between the Blazers and defending champion Golden State Warriors to keep Kanter off Turkish screens, said network commentator Omer Sarac.
Turkish broadcasters have not shown Kanter’s games since last year when he was indicted by a Turkish court, including on Sunday when the 26-year old center scored 12 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in a thrilling four-point Blazers victory over the Denver Nuggets.
That sent Portland to the best-of-seven games conference final, one step away from the league final, which would also be banned if Kanter is playing. The full NBA playoffs have been televised in Turkey since broadcasts began in the 1990s.
“I can say clearly that we will not be broadcasting the Warriors-Blazers series,” Sarac told Reuters. “Furthermore, if Portland makes it to the finals, (that) will not be broadcast either ... This situation is not about us, but it is what it is.”
Kanter has been an outspoken critic of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and describes himself as a close ally of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for a failed coup in July, 2016. Gulen has denied involvement.
Kanter is charged with belonging to an armed terrorist group, which he denies, and Turkish officials have demanded that the United States extradites him.
S Sport confirmed on Tuesday that it would only broadcast the parallel eastern conference finals between the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks.
Fans in Turkey can still access the games through the NBA’s official online platforms, NBA TV and NBA International, both of which are paid services.
Basketball’s popularity is second only to soccer among Turkey’s 82 million people.
“It is mind-blowing that a conference final will not be broadcast in Turkey,” said Mert Aktas, a well-known Turkish NBA commentator and former chief editor of NBA Turkey magazine.
The National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) backed Kanter this month after the league’s official Turkish Twitter account removed his statistics following an earlier win over the Nuggets.
“The NBPA fully supports our players using their platforms to stand up for their beliefs and the principles they support. We stand with Enes and, as with all of our players, will work to ensure that he is treated fairly and with respect,” the NBPA said in a statement.
In response, the NBA scrapped its contract with the local vendor running the Turkish Twitter account.
Kanter posted a video on Twitter and asked fans to help it reach his mother for Mother’s Day, given the Turkish government blocks his social media accounts. Kanter’s family cannot leave Turkey because their passports have been revoked over Kanter’s ties to Gulen.
“We have a very important game today. I know that you can’t even watch my games, but please keep me and my team mates, my coaches in your prayers. They’ve been taking care of me very, very well,” Kanter said.
“Just be proud of your son because your son is sacrificing everything to stand tall for human rights, democracy and freedom. And he’s fighting against dictators,” he said. (Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Ed Osmond)