OKLAHOMA CITY — Former Thunder sixth man and current Knicks starting center Enes Kanter surprised both of his former teams Wednesday, coming to Oklahoma City for Game 5 of the Thunder's and Jazz's first-round playoff series.
The big man who started his career with the Jazz and went onto OKC from there wore his rooting interest on his chest, sporting a shirt that read "Stache Brothers," the former nickname for him and Thunder center Steven Adams, across the chest.
Kanter spoke with the Thunder beat writers before Wednesday's Game 5 about his first year with the Knicks, his citizenship situation, his genuine love for trolling on social media and way more.
Here is the conversation.
What’s it been like to watch this series?
Kanter: “I learned a lot, especially watching the Thunder-Jazz series. I watch it because I’ve been with this team a long time, and I think just because of playoff experiences it’s really important. Now, I’m just in front of the TV watching, watching Steven (Adams), watching all the big guys. I think it teaches me a lot.”
What does it teach you?
“It just teaches me everything … about offense, defense, especially defensively I watch Steven a lot. It’s just taught me a lot of things of what Steven is doing. It helps me a lot during the season.”
Do you wish you were playing in this series in the sense of the matchup [of two traditional big men]?
“The matchup would be amazing. Everybody should get a taste of the playoffs. It just gets you so much experience. It’s amazing. The regular season is like an AAU game compared to the playoffs.”
Are you surprised by the results of the first four games?
“A little bit. I told one of the guys who was asking me in the media … he asked ‘who is your favorite?’ I said OKC is going to win a championship. But it doesn’t matter (if it’s) 3-1, whatever, they’re capable of coming back. They’re capable of winning every game. I think they have a really special team and they can do really good things.”
What do you think has been the problem for the Thunder?
“I didn’t watch them that much, but I know what they’re capable of with Russell, PG and Melo. With their leadership, I think they have a really good chance of coming back.”
Are you going to be cheering for the Thunder tonight?
“I am cheering for the Thunder and not cheering for the Utah Jazz. I even told the Knicks ‘I’m going to watch one of the Thunder games. Just making sure you guys are OK.’ I let them know early. They said ‘whatever. OK.’ I watch Thunder games. Sometimes people watch before the games. Sometimes I turn on the channel where the Thunder was playing and they would just come around and watch the Thunder.”
When did you decide you were going to come?
“When we learned we were not going to make the playoffs. After you lose some games and then you said ‘OK, there’s no way you’re making the playoffs.’ That’s when I decided I wanted to come watch the playoff game. I even told Steven ‘I’m coming to watch a game,’ he said ‘OK.;
Do you still have any friends with the Jazz?
“I’m still cool with Alec Burks. I’m still cool with Derrick Favors. Rudy [Gobert] a little bit. He tries to troll me on Twitter most of the time. That’s it pretty much.”
Has your relationship with the Jazz gotten better from then to now?
"Yes, I think that I remember my second year [in Oklahoma City], I remember that I get in the game, I remember this guy [in Utah] was yelling and saying, ‘When Trump get elected, he’s gonna kick you out of the country.’ I was like, ‘OK, this is too much. This is too much.’ But I think it was cool just it got so much better now. As you see, I talk to the guys. I talk to the coaches. I think it’s truly good."
Utah has a crazy crowd.
"Let me tell you something, man. Their crowd might be the worst crowd to play in front of, because it’s just like — I know that crowd is just like, it’s terrible. Because I remember, they used to boo [former Jazz point guard] Deron Williams [after he left]. They used to boo me a lot. They used to boo a few other players, and then none of them had a really, really good game. If you got booed, you always have bad game."
Have you made any ground in terms of getting your citizenship? (Kanter's native country, Turkey, canceled his passport this past summer.)
"I got my green card when I was with [the] Thunder two summers ago. So, I’m just still waiting. But I have my special document. I can visit countries. It doesn’t mean I’m going to."
Is it a bad idea to visit other countries still?
"Before I get citizenship, yes. That’d be ugly. It wouldn’t be cool, especially before I sign my contract. Then, maybe go. If I die, at least let me get the money."
Hazır mısın Türkiye 🇹🇷 pic.twitter.com/BN8TIQyhK4— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) April 21, 2018
I liked your Turkish Airlines tweet [when you took a selfie in front of a Turkish Airlines sign, pretending to be going back to Turkey].
"Oh, the whole country, I was the fifth in a Twitter thing [trending on Twitter] because they all like, they were just cussing and they were — it was cool because they always say crazy things, so I’m just like, they need to get trolled sometimes."
You need to troll everybody, right?
"It’s fun because it’s fun for the fans. They love it. NBA don’t want us to do it, but they kind of do because it puts the ratings up so high. I think it’s cool. You’re just having fun and stuff, like me and LeBron and [how] me and KD used to be whatever. I think it’s cool. I think it’s part of the game."
Is there anything you want to say to Thunder fans?
"Man, I don’t wanna say nothing crazy and make the New York fans sad, but this place [was] always special for me. It doesn’t matter — 10, 15 years from now — it’s gonna always be in my heart, because it actually was my first home, Oklahoma City…I was just outside. Everybody was yelling. Everybody was — I can’t tell you how often I get texted, ‘Enes! Come back! You should come back! Come back!’ Whatever. I think it just shows how nice the Thunder fans are."
Where are you sitting [for Game 5]?
"I’m gonna be right there [points about 15 rows back]. You know where [Kanter's manager] Hilmi [Cinar] sits? I thought I’m gonna get seats right there [points courtside]. They gave me sears up there. It’s messed up. It’s OK."
They can’t put you on the big board.
"What does that mean?"
Because you’re still on the Knicks.
"Am I? Am I?"
Are you going to opt out? You are technically on the Knicks.
"Until July 1, yes. We’ll talk to teams. We’ll see."
But yes, it’s tampering. I asked.
"Wow. That’s crazy. It’s OK. Whatever. I’ll just get up and just wave. It’s cool, though. I’m excited, though, man. I’m really excited about this watching. It’s gonna be awkward. It’s gonna be weird. Just seeing, just watching my teammates play — ex-teammates — playing basketball. It’s gonna be cool. We’ll see."
Fred Katz is the Thunder beat writer for the Norman Transcript and CNHI Oklahoma as well as the host of the postgame show, Thunder After Dark, and the OKC Dream Team, a weekly Thunder podcast that runs every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKatz.