Enes Kanter may or may not have been aiming his tweets Monday at LeBron James, but if he wasn’t criticizing the Los Angeles Lakers star for the latter’s comments and tweets on the NBA-China issue, plenty of other people certainly were.

James set off a firestorm Monday when he told reporters that Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, whose since-deleted tweet expressed support for protesters in Hong Kong and garnered a huge backlash from China, was “misinformed” and that sometimes “you have to think through things that may cause harm not only for yourself but for the majority of people.”

James subsequently attempted to clarify his remarks in a pair of tweets, saying that he had not been “discussing the substance” of Morey’s sentiment but simply addressing the “consequences and ramifications of the tweet.” However, James, who was in China with his Lakers for a pair of exhibition games when the controversy over Morey’s tweets erupted, appeared to inflame his critics further when he said on Twitter, “My team and this league just went through a difficult week.”

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Just over a quarter-hour after James offered his Twitter comments, Kanter began posting a series of cryptic tweets that made it clear he was exasperated with … well, someone. The Boston Celtics forward has famously been at odds with the authoritarian regime in his home country of Turkey — to the point of apparent personal peril — and his tweets were interpreted by many as reactions to James.

That suspicion only grew when Kanter posted a list of setbacks suffered since he earned the enmity of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by becoming a follower of Fethullah Gulen, a cleric and prominent critic of Erdogan who has been living in self-imposed exile in the United States. The Turkish government has described Gulen as the leader of a cult and a terrorist group who was behind a failed coup attempt in 2016, and it has reportedly issued a warrant for the arrest of Kanter, who has become fearful of traveling outside of the U.S.

Kanter’s claims of fallout from his opposition to Erdogan included the following:

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  • “Haven’t seen or talked to my family 5 years”
  • “Jailed my dad”
  • “My siblings can’t find jobs”
  • “Revoked my passport”
  • “International arrest warrant”
  • “My family can’t leave the country”
  • “Got Death Threats everyday”
  • “Got attacked, harassed”
  • “Tried to kidnap me in Indonesia”

He ended that tweet by declaring, “FREEDOM IS NOT FREE.”

Kanter, 27, did not spell out why he made his comments on Twitter, but the hundreds of replies to his list were filled with messages of admiration for his courage. Some took a more snarky route, wryly chastising Kanter for not expressing enough consideration for a certain other NBA player’s “difficult week.”

By contrast, James received a noteworthy amount of scorn for his tweets. Here is a sampling:

James was reminded online of this tweet he posted last year, one that seemed to some to indicate that he was not practicing Monday what he had preached:

In his comments to reporters, James said of his reticence over the past week to speak out on the NBA’s balancing act with regard to China, Hong Kong and issues of free speech, “I think when we talk about the political side, I think it’s a very delicate situation. … I felt like with this particular situation, it was something that not only was I not informed enough about, I just felt like it was something that not only myself or my teammates or the organization had enough information to talk about it at that point in time. And we still feel the same way.”

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To judge from the reaction online Monday, more than a few were of the opinion that James should have continued to not “talk about it,” rather than commit an unforced error by throwing Morey under the bus while failing to apply to China — and its lucrative market — the same passion for social justice he has occasionally brought to comments on domestic events. Add in Kanter’s tweets, and the Lakers-Celtics rivalry may have just taken on a new dimension of geopolitical significance.

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