Former NBA player Hedo Turkoglu, now a chief adviser to the president of Turkey, says comments by Enes Kanter about the country are nothing more than an ongoing "political smear campaign" by the New York Knicks center.
Kanter last week said he would not travel with the Knicks to London for a game against the Washington Wizards on Jan. 17 because he fears for his life because of his ongoing clash with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Kanter, who has been an outspoken critic of the Turkish government and Erdogan, said he did not feel safe making the trip because "there's a chance that I can get killed out there."
"We know that [Kanter] has not been able to travel to many countries due to visa issues since 2017," Turkoglu said in a statement posted to Twitter on Monday. "In other words, Kanter can't enter the UK not because of fears for life as he claims but due to passport and visa issues. This being the long-known truth, he is trying to get the limelight with irrational justifications and political remarks.
"Such remarks constitute another example of the political smear campaign Kanter has been conducting against Turkey as well as his efforts to attribute importance to himself by covering up the contradictions in his sports career. ... It is obvious that this person's remarks are irrational and distort the truth."
Kanter told reporters at the Knicks' shootaround Monday in Portland that Turkoglu likely was being told to say those things.
"It's probably not [Turkoglu], but the president making him say it," Kanter told reporters. "If you look at his Twitter, it's German, English and Turkish. It's three languages, and he doesn't even know German. They're probably making him do it. He's kind of like his puppy dog. Lap dog is better. He probably got so much money for that."
A Knicks team official said last week that Kanter wouldn't travel to London because of a visa issue, but Kanter on Monday said that was incorrect.
"They don't understand the conversation, and it's very confusing," said Kanter, who posted a photo of a travel document on Twitter. "It's not a visa issue. ... I have a travel document.... I can travel."
Knicks owner James Dolan told reporters that he supports Kanter's decision.
"I think it's legitimate," Dolan said. "My people over there are assuring us there won't be a problem, there won't be a problem, but if I was him, I'd be concerned, too. I don't blame him at all. I'm totally OK with it."
Kanter reportedly was indicted by the Istanbul Cyber Crimes Investigation Bureau last year because of "hurtful and humiliating" comments made about Turkoglu, the president of the Turkish Basketball Federation, on social media.
According to a report by The New York Times, Erdogan has jailed, fired or suspended tens of thousands of people accused of plotting a failed coup. In December 2017, Turkey's state-run news agency, Anadolu Agency, reported that prosecutors were seeking more than four years in prison for Kanter on charges of insulting Erdogan in a series of tweets he posted in 2016.
Asked whether he really believes that he could be killed if he travels to London, Kanter said, "Oh yeah, easy. They've got a lot of spies there. I can get killed very easy. That will be a very ugly situation."
Kanter has said he believes the Turkish government has targeted his father in the past because of the player's critical stance against the country's government. In 2017, Kanter's Turkish passport was canceled and he was held at a Romanian airport upon landing in Bucharest.
In 2016, Kanter spoke out against Erdogan after a bombing in Ankara, Turkey's capital city. Kanter, who has received death threats, supports Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Turkish cleric who has been exiled from Turkey and is a bitter rival of Erdogan's. The Turkish government has accused Gulen of masterminding a failed military coup in 2016. Gulen has denied the allegation.
ESPN's Ian Begley and Ohm Youngmisuk contributed to this report.