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Why Enes Kanter Has a New Name (And Why His Family Disowned Him)

Turkey, Enes Kanter's homeland, is having a tempestuous summer. If his online screed—and new last name of Gülen—is any indication, it hasn't been easy for him, either.
When you need the universe to listen up for a dang minute. Photo by Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

When a dude in the NBA starts off one of those screen-capped Twitter screeds with "Hey Universe, hear my voice," well, people listen.

Enes Kanter—he of the Thunder frontcourt, the earnest mustache, the corny jokes, the brilliant offense and shaky defense—has been having a rough summer. Kanter is Turkish, and his country has been reeling from the past few months of violence and suspicion, between the ISIS attacks, a continuing Kurdish separatist movement, and a failed coup d'etat by the Turkish military.


An American might imagine that Enes Kanter, a 24-year-old goofball and seemingly the highest-profile Turk in the United States, would be beyond suspicion. That American would be wrong. Kanter's "Hey Universe!" decree was a little weird and more than a little sad. He announced, in his native language, that his family has disowned him and that he has a new name: Enes Gülen.

The new surname didn't come out of the blue, of course. Enes chose to take on the name of Pennsylvania-based preacher of world peace and inter-religious understanding Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric that Kanter has supported both via social media and through fundraising. Kanter went to Gülen-funded schools as a kid and aligns himself with the movement that followers call Hizmet, or "service."

The catch here is that Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, believes Gülen to be behind that failed coup. Thousands of Gülen-aligned teachers, military officers, and businessmen have been arrested in what Erdogan's opponents are calling a "purge."

It must be tough being a public face of Hizmet when Erdogan says stuff like "every cent given to Gülen is a bullet placed in a barrel to be fired against this nation." But Kanter is indeed giving lots and lots of cents to Gülen, which raises a big question: Is Enes Kanter really being guided by a man who is plotting the destruction of a country with 80 million residents? The answer to that is, uh, complicated, and mostly boils down to "who knows?" The Turkish government wants the United States to extradite Gülen (the cleric, not the big man) for trial in Turkey, but the US isn't convinced yet. For what it's worth, the cleric denies all charges and openly wonders if the coup was a false-flag operation. No objective investigators have figured out who precisely ordered tanks to roll through Istanbul on July 15th. Which makes Enes Kanter a 6'11'' pawn tweeting about and in the midst of grand political intrigue. (If you were curious, Hedo Turkoglu's Twitter account is currently all about Erdoğan.)

There's also a smaller, sadder, question: What's up with the Kanters? Enes' father, Mehmet, told Turkish media, "I apologize to the Turkish people and the president for having such a son." It's hard to tell if this is heartfelt loss or a terrified man making a political decision, but it's sad either way.

Enes is far from home. "Today I lost my father, my mother, my siblings and all of my relatives of 24 years," he wrote in his Hey Universe statement. He went on to describe his upbringing and a life of learning from Fethullah Gülen's organization. "God exists, grief does not," Enes concluded. He signed it "Enes (Kanter) GÜLEN."