Remember when “Free Tibet” was a mainstay of the cool, hippie subculture that dominated the Nineties? Back when Hollywood cared about the fate of Buddhism’s Holy Land?

Few will even remember that Disney — yes, the same Disney that recently filmed parts of the live-action Mulan in Xinjiang — produced a film, Kundun, about the early life of the Dalai Lama. China then retaliated by banning Disney films, causing the company to backtrack and attempt to bury the Scorsese-directed biopic. Disney's then-CEO even traveled to China to apologize.

This series of events should sound familiar by now...

Remember when “Free Tibet” was a mainstay of the cool, hippie subculture that dominated the Nineties? Back when Hollywood cared about the fate of Buddhism’s Holy Land?

Few will even remember that Disney — yes, the same Disney that recently filmed parts of the live-action Mulan in Xinjiang — produced a film, Kundun, about the early life of the Dalai Lama. China then retaliated by banning Disney films, causing the company to backtrack and attempt to bury the Scorsese-directed biopic. Disney’s then-CEO even traveled to China to apologize.

This series of events should sound familiar by now in the age of Western capitulation to China. Less commonplace these days is the sight of a celebrity sporting imagery of the Dalai Lama and any quaint talk of “freeing Tibet.”

That’s why it was stupefying to see the Boston Celtics center, Enes Kanter, denounce President Xi Jinping as a “brutal dictator” with an image of Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader emblazoned across his T-shirt. This came in a video that was posted to social media right before the New York Knicks were slated to play the Celtics in the opening home game of the NBA season.

With somber conviction, Kanter looked into the camera and criticized China’s denial of basic rights and freedoms to the Tibetan people and its ongoing cultural genocide, avowing that he could no longer “stay silent.”

His activism did not end there. As Kanter stepped out into the Madison Square Garden arena, all eyes were on his brightly hued sneakers that bore unmistakable visual references to the Tibetan flag, which Chinese authorities consider a symbol of separatism. Custom-made and hand-painted by the Chinese dissident artist Badiucao, the shoes were bathed in blue and swirls of orange flames that represented the 150 Tibetans who, as Enes referenced in his video, self-immolated in protest of Beijing’s rule. The words “Free Tibet” were inscribed on one side of the shoe in bold.

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Enes Kanter’s ‘Free Tibet’ shoes (Getty)

It was clear that the firestorm set off by KanterGate would render the fallout from MoreyGate tame by comparison. In 2019, former Houston Rockets manager Daryl Morey posted a tweet supporting the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. Cringe-inducing concessions to the Chinese followed (Morey and the NBA both apologized), but the backlash was substantial. Merchandising sales fell through and TV contracts were revoked, resulting in a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

Sure enough, shortly after Enes Kanter’s stunt, internet giant Tencent Holdings, the NBA’s streaming partner in the country, canceled the live broadcast and pulled all future Celtics games, while Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, immediately banned any searches for Kanter’s name on the platform. Kanter even drew the ire of Chinese state media on Twitter.

Despite having played an average of 12 minutes in the pre-season games under his new coach Ime Udoka, Kanter did not spend a single second out of his tracksuit and on the court, curious considering that the game went into double overtime and saw the Celtics eventually succumb to the Knicks 134-138.

We can’t be sure if the decision to bench Kanter was political, but we were all thinking it. The NBA’s track record has been to cave to the CCP’s ideological orthodoxy and silence any deviants. Right around the time Kanter began speaking out against China, his income dropped substantially. Indeed, after having one of the most productive seasons of his entire NBA career with the Portland Trailblazers last season, averaging career highs in multiple areas, he was only able to secure a one-year contract with the Celtics for the current 2022 season.

Of course, when it comes to domestic activism, the NBA is very much supportive of its players and coaches. After the pandemic forced the league to play all remaining games in the Disney bubble in Orlando, “Black Lives Matter” was painted prominently on the courts and players wore slogans on their jerseys in lieu of last names: “I can’t breathe,” “Anti-racist,” “Justice.” But when it comes to “Stand with Hong Kong” or “Free Tibet,” it sure looks like team owners and league officials are not only far less supportive but actively try to undermine the statements and campaigns.

Why does the NBA permit moral grandstanding and outrage over domestic issues but not international ones? The most charitable answer is that due to limited bandwidth, no one can get really bogged down in every minutia of every single case of human rights violations around the globe. But this ignores the fact that the NBA and related companies already have their tentacles deep in Chinese markets, more than a billion-dollar enterprise — and growing. In fact, the league even established training camps to discover home-grown stars in Xinjiang, the region where atrocities are regularly carried out against the Uighur Muslims.

Nothing better exposes the woke edifice projected by the NBA than international human rights. When cold hard financial realities of losing business or market access come into conflict with all that pesky activism, why support it?

Which is why Enes Kanter’s latest #FreeTibet campaign is so brilliant. It forces the NBA to finally take one of two positions: either they condone his anti-CCP activism and risk losing billions of dollars and creating a diplomatic incident, or they punish him for going off-script on their financial overlords and reveal themselves for the faux woke authority that they are.

Buckle up. We’re in for a long, interesting ride.