Generally, if you have live sports rights, you air those sports. It’s what you do. And there’s usually enough competition for premiere properties like the NBA in particular that it would be foolish to have rights and yet choose not to air those games. But that’s what’s going on in Turkey, where political complaints about Portland Trail Blazers center Enes Kanter (#00 above) have led to the Western Conference Finals and perhaps the NBA Finals not airing in that country.
Kanter was born in Switzerland to Turkish parents, and he had Turkish citizenship until that government canceled his passport in 2017. He’s been linked with exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen (who the government blames for a failed coup in 2016; Gülen denies any links to that), and has been a frequent critic of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who Kanter once called “the Hitler of our century.” And he skipped a trip to London earlier this season while he was with the New York Knicks over worries that Turkish spies might kill him there. Turkey has also accused Kanter of terrorism, issued a warrant for his arrest, and blocked his Twitter account in-country. And that country has also gone after Kanter’s father, Dr. Mehmet Kanter, a professor at Turkey’s Trakya University. The senior Kanter was indicted last summer and charged with membership in a terrorist group; he went on trial in March and could face over a decade in prison.
With Kanter and the Blazers advancing to the NBA Western Conference Finals, the current NBA playoffs have taken on quite the political dimension in Turkey. Earlier these playoffs, the local vendor who ran the official NBA Turkey Twitter account left Kanter out of a highlights recap, leading to the NBA ending its relationship with that company. But this has now gone to a new level, with high-level games involving Kanter now not even being shown in Turkey at all. As Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu of Reuters wrote Tuesday, local broadcast S Sport won’t air the Western Conference Finals, and they say they won’t air the NBA Finals if Portland gets there:
Turkish basketball player Enes Kanter’s Portland Trail Blazers reached the NBA’s Western Conference finals, which start on Tuesday, but for the first time the series will not be widely televised in Turkey, where he is accused of having terrorist links.
S Sport, the main TV broadcaster of National Basketball Association (NBA) games in Turkey, will not show the conference final between the Blazers and defending champion Golden State Warriors, the company and two of its commentators confirmed on Tuesday.
…“I can say clearly that we will not be broadcasting the Warriors-Blazers series,” S Sport commentator Omer Sarac told Reuters. “Furthermore, if Portland makes it to the finals, (that) will not be broadcast either,” he said.
Fans in Turkey can still see the games through the paid NBA TV cable option and an online service.
…“It is mind-blowing that a conference final will not be broadcast in Turkey,” said Mete Aktas, a well-known Turkish NBA commentator and former chief editor of NBA Turkey magazine.
That is pretty mind-blowing indeed, and it helps illustrate just how upset the Turkish government is with Kanter. But it’s quite rare to see that sort of government action impact the sports broadcasting space. And it raises some interesting questions about what the NBA will do. They parted ways with that Turkish Twitter vendor earlier, but a Twitter vendor is a much less significant contract than a broadcasting deal, and S Sport has a significant presence in Turkey.
And Turkey is very into basketball, so a broadcasting deal there isn’t insignificant for the NBA. That’s especially true considering how that league has been looking to grow its international presence recently. But having a broadcaster ignore the NBA’s conference finals and potentially their league finals because they don’t like one player on one team is also significant. We’ll see what comes of this.