The life of an NBA player is defined by constant travel: crisscrossing the country for away games and spending half of the year in dozens of different cities. So it’s always a great experience to play with home-court advantage before the Celtics’ fans, as well as under pressure in away games. The type of experience we were used to having pre-COVID was unparalleled, and nothing could ever replace that. Despite the 140-day interruption to our passion, the NBA has done a tremendous job creating a safe haven in Orlando for the players, coaches, staff and referees. Housing hundreds of players in a sports complex, arranging safe workout settings and creating a home-court experience for games is no easy feat. Although we miss our fans enormously, this 10-week period has been an exceptional experience for most of us. All of us are rivals, but we share the same building, work out together, and even watch the games together. It is a surreal experience, and it will increase camaraderie within teams, cultivate new friendships and, most of all, provide a safe environment for this restless hiatus to end in.
The so-called ‘bubble’ has also witnessed a parade of players sending out important messages for social justice, equality and empowerment. My pick was ‘freedom’, an all-encompassing word that advocates for the freedom of those who are suffering on every level here in the US and around the world, including in my home country of Turkey. It is absolutely breathtaking to watch my players from my team and every team to stand united in protesting the social injustices that have plagued this country for so long, and join hands together in saying, ‘Enough.’ The NBA’s longstanding support and advocacy are undoubtedly inspiring for everyone.
I’m grateful that I get to play the game that I love in such a safe bubble, and that it’s been a great experience. We are getting tested daily, and we have advocated that the NBA must ensure that our testing doesn’t divert resources from our community here in Orlando. We are ready to help in any way we can to ensure that necessary testing and support are given to high-priority patients. Before games started here in the bubble, I’d been playing video games, pool and volley ball, and even had a swimming competition with a couple of my teammates. I think the Boston Celtics did a great job building the team chemistry while we were in quarantine. Now that we are together in the bubble, it’s even stronger. All of us are away from our friends and family until October 12, but here we have been each other’s family. With players standing on a united front on issues of social injustices, I feel we are really making an impact outside of basketball. With fans and people watching us all over the world, it is a perfect chance for us to make a difference.
While I am grateful that we have an infrastructure that enables us to work out, be together and play games safely, it is no equivalent to being out there, traveling for games and playing before the fans. Every morning I wake up thankful for the opportunity, but there is something that makes me feel like I’m in a cage. The idea that we can’t get out and have to be cloistered in this space for 10 weeks takes a mental toll on you.
Over 6,000 miles away across the ocean, there is another bubble in which my family lives, and which tens of thousands of my freedom-loving people have to endure: the confines of 5×7 ft cells, just because they are not on the same page with Turkey’s authoritarian government. For years my father was dragged through the courts, indicted on outrageous trumped-up charges and eventually jailed. My family was intimidated just because they share the same last name as me. But now my father has recently been acquitted of all bogus charges. I am not going to thank the Turkish courts for granting my father’s freedom when it shouldn’t have been taken away in the first place. His acquittal wasn’t an act of generosity. It was a direct result of our fight. As long as we are outspoken, the triumph of evil is distant.
My father’s case is an anomaly, but it is a clear illustration that speaking out and advocacy work. Remaining silent encourages authoritarian governments. I believe everyone can do something to make a difference, no matter how small that is. For that reason, I started a campaign called You Are My Hope. I am very grateful to dozens of celebrities and politicians for endorsing the campaign. This is a fight that no single person can pull off on their own. We are as strong as our determination to stay united and share the burden. As much as I am proud of the league I am playing in and of the athletes that speak out, it is inspiring to be among fans that contribute in every way they can to make sure we live in a just society.