From State to State, Mosques to Synagogues, There’s No Stopping Enes Kanter’s Record-Breaking Camp Tour

NEW YORK CITY -- There is no one in pro sports quite like Enes Kanter.

Through the last weekend in July, the new Boston Celtics big man extended his own record for basketball camps hosted by an NBA player in a single summer to 36, with all expenses paid out of his own pocket. On Sunday, he took a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to New York City and Ubered to Long Island, where he spent six hours managing on back-to-back camps in two different locations. From there, he drove back to Manhattan for a two-hour basketball workout with trainer Chris Brickley—all on two hours of sleep.

“I think if you’re motivated and hungry to be successful, you can push your body,” Enes tells CloseUp360. “I like to be busy!”

So busy, in fact, that he didn’t have time to stop and speak with CloseUp360 on site, so he conducted an extended Q&A over text instead. Enes discussed how he does it all, his favorite moments of the summer, hosting a camp at a mosque in Long Island amid pressure from the Turkish Consulate in New York, his love for his country, getting situated in Boston and much more.

(The interview has been edited for clarity and length.)

Enes Kanter indoors kids

Enes Kanter is well on his way to hosting more than 40 free basketball camps across the country. (Jared Zwerling)

CloseUp360: How do you keep up with such a hectic summer schedule?

Enes Kanter: First, I make plans that I stick to, no matter what! Like my basketball workouts: I arrange them either four or five times a week, then plan things around that. Also, my manager, [Hank Fetic], keeps me busy with the camps and organizes this. It’s for a good cause.

CU360: Have you ever considered going easier during the summer to save your energy for the NBA season?

EK: No! I am 27 years old and you can see I have never had issues with my effort or energy. I just went through the Western Conference finals with an injured shoulder and never gave up. Whichever team I am on, they know I will give 100 percent. It is in my blood.

CU360: You’re doing something no one has ever done before: 40 camps in a single summer. What does it mean to you to accomplish a feat like this?

EK: It feels special. Before the season, they told me the record is nine camps and I wanted to do something special and crazy. To break a record is nice, but to offer so many free camps in my offseason and to give kids an opportunity to play sports and meet an NBA player that they normally could not due to financial reasons, or due to space, is more important. I always welcome everyone to my camp. In Portland, we had almost 900 kids alone!! We do not turn kids back.

CU360: What has the summer been like for you overall?

EK: First, I got to see almost 25 different states, and I can tell you this country is so beautiful. Places like Louisiana, Alabama, North Dakota, Alaska, Idaho—places many Americans don't visit—have so much to offer. Truly great people who are incredibly friendly. It was nice for me to see how people live across the U.S. I was in Alabama and they told me the last b-ball player who came here was Shaq, and he stopped to eat a burger.

CU360: In what ways is this summer different than last year?

EK: Last year, we did 16 camps and it was our first summer doing camps like this. This time, we got more camps, more cities and more exposure. And every NBA player does basketball camps in LA, New York and Miami. I wanted to host camps where NBA players have never been before, because those kids deserve the best, too.

Enes Kanter talking kids concrete

Last summer, Enes hosted 16 camps in the U.S. (Jared Zwerling)

CU360: Did you attend any basketball camps like these growing up?

EK: No, I did not. We didn't have money to afford NBA camps. It is one of the reasons I wanted to make the camps free. I heard [about] NBA players charging $300-400, but some of the kids can’t afford it. And God gave me so much, so I’m trying to use this to make people happy and put a smile on their face, because when a kid smiles it’s PRICELESS.

CU360: You basically run each camp yourself with your own drills and activities. How did you learn how to run a camp?

EK: We get other coaches to warm the kids up, then I put them through drills. But our camps aren't aimed at making you an NBA player. They are aimed at having fun, interacting, laughing and learning to love [the] sport and finding pleasure in competing. I was nervous my first time, but it got to the point where I am very comfortable!

CU360: You have some fun games you play with the campers, including one where kids have to clap only when you dribble or they’re out. How do you come up with your ideas?

EK: Yes, that game is a camp classic. I just imagine the kind of stuff I would want to play: one-on-one against an NBA player, three-on-three and competitions, like the clap game or knock out. I basically give the kids what I wanted as a kid.

CU360: Hank is your right-hand man all summer. How does he help you on and off the court?

EK: On the court, he doesn't. He is actually pretty bad at basketball. But he does give me motivational support after games when I just want to talk [about] how things went. Off the court, he organizes media and camps for me. He managed to organize over 40 camps in 25-plus states by himself. He is an incredibly hard worker. So any of the players [who] wanna do a camp in any state, hit him up.

CU360: What are your favorite moments from the summer?

EK: Probably just putting my body through all these camps—flying at 1 a.m., landing at 7 a.m., doing a camp at 9 a.m., then repeating the whole process. Seeing kids in small towns in Alabama tell me they see me on TV and enjoy watching me play feels special every time. One time, we landed in Alabama and there were no cars for rent. So me and Hank sat down on the floor in the airport with no idea what to do. The place we wanted to go is so small and far that Ubers don't go there. Eventually, staff saw us and moved things around and gave us a car that’s not normally available for rent to make our camp.

CU360: Which new cities did you go to that you enjoyed visiting?

EK: Anchorage, Alaska. It was wild; it never gets dark. And I loved Seattle—probably [the] most beautiful and cleanest city I have seen.

CU360: Why is it important for you to pay for all of your travel and all of the camp costs on your own?

EK: Two reasons. 1) Many companies say they don't care about politics and want to partner with athletes who are good. I am an example that it is not true. Many companies choose not to sponsor me because of me being outspoken. 2) I don't want kids to pay anything, so I choose to cover all costs. I don’t want them to worry about money. I’m making enough money and I don’t wanna charge kids who just want to have fun. And some of the kids can’t afford it. So it’s all on me.

CU360: When the summer ends, how much do you think you’ll have spent out of your own pocket—travels, meals, camps, etc.—to do all of this?

EK: I think close to $250,000, $300,000 with everything included: hotels, gifts, flights, meals, rent courts, basketballs, free t-shirts.

Enes Kanter group photo concrete

Enes estimates that he's spent more than a quarter of a million dollars out of his own pocket to fund his basketball camps. (Jared Zwerling)

CU360: You have a hashtag—#Live4Others. What does that mean to you?

EK: It means sacrificing your time and energy for other people, putting a smile on kids’ faces even when I am going through a lot in my life—from political stuff to professional stuff. Whatever situation you are in, always give positive energy. When I’m done with my career, I wanna look back and say how many people I inspired or touched.

I believe life is too short to live it around yourself only, and think it’s more meaningful to live it in a way to make others flourish—not only yourself. It’s what it means to me. Once you do that, life starts giving you more satisfaction! On the court, I believe the same philosophy; playing a game around yourself only is not something I’d enjoy and support. I’m a big believer that a good leader is always the one who makes players around himself better.

CU360: How did the camp at the Islamic Center of Long Island get cancelled? And how did it get put back on?

EK: The mosque ICLI was pressured by the Turkish Consulate in NYC. They sent out blast e-mails to the Turkish community to go to the mosque to make threats and intimidate the community. This forced the mosque to cancel my camp, even though I was there last year. Instead of calling the police, they fumbled and cancelled my camp. Congresswoman Kathleen [Rice] from [New York’s] 4th [congressional] district and her staff helped me find a venue at a neutral place, and we did the camp there. Over 200 people came!

CU360: The camp tours across America began as a response to Turkey pulling your passport, thereby limiting your travel options. What are your thoughts on Turkey now allegedly meddling in your camps in Long Island, and before that in Dallas?

EK: This is just proof that even when I am doing things in my new home, America, a foreign government finds it okay to take away the happiness of kids. What they don't understand is that this motivates me to do more community engagement! I will not be bullied. Next year, I will do even more camps. We are planning to do 50 next year.

CU360: You’re one of the very few pro athletes who has ever hosted a camp at a mosque. How did it happen and how special was that for you?

EK: It feels good because it is my community. We have done camps at a synagogue before and a church in Florida. They changed the main hall into a gym and we did a camp there. Afterwards, my manager, Hank, told me the pastor made a prayer for us that our other camps are successful, too!

Enes Kanter mosque

Enes hosted one of his camps at the Masjid Darul Quran mosque in Long Island. (Jared Zwerling)

CU360: When you pray, is there anything specifically that you hope for?

EK: I always pray for universal peace, for health, and the ability to continue to do good and positive work in the community.

CU360: How important is faith in your life, and when do you turn to it for help in your everyday life?

EK: I turn to faith every day. It makes me a better person, a focused athlete and a humanitarian. My faith keeps me away from a lot of negative things that plague other athletes, like alcohol or drugs.

CU360: What more did you discover about your faith being in that environment on Sunday?

EK: I discovered that if one group dislikes you in your community, there are many more who love you and respect you.

CU360: What messages were important to share with the kids at the mosque?

EK: I wanted them to know that they have no limits, that they truly can do whatever they want in life if they work hard, listen to their coaches and parents. But above all, I wanted them to know when they reach that level of success, it is their duty to give back to others and inspire the next generation. And also, another important thing was I tried to tell them how important their education is. And also one more thing: whatever your background, color, race, culture or faith you are in, the most important thing in life is leave your differences on the table and try to find what we have in common. We can make this world better together.

CU360: What are your big-picture goals for your camps?

EK: My goal is to visit every state, to provide camps in places no NBA player has ever gone and to inspire kids to be better than they thought they could be.

Enes Kanter dribble

Enes runs all the activities—including fun basketball-related games—at his camps himself, like this one last weekend at the Island Garden Basketball center. (Jared Zwerling)

CU360: Will you be watching the FIBA World Cup, and how do you feel about the Turkish national team? Will you be rooting for/against or taking a neutral stance?

EK: I love my country; I just don't like the government. I will watch and support them and pray they will be as successful as they can be. One day, maybe I will be back on the national team.

CU360: What are your thoughts on now finding community in Boston?

EK: I have not met the community yet, but the organization is amazing. Everyone has been so welcoming and I look forward to working with them. My favorite moment this summer was probably signing with Boston, meeting Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens and the other guys. Also, hanging out with Tacko Fall was fun. He’s a super nice guy.

CU360: Have you found any good Turkish spots in Boston yet? Is there much of a Turkish community there?

EK: Yes, I have found one and I went there with Tacko Fall. There are actually. We even have two Turkish culture centers that I got a chance to visit.

CU360: What are your favorite Turkish dishes? Do you ever cook?

EK: I love maklube. It is a huge rice dish with meat and vegetables. I have made it in the past.  Actually, I do. I even had a cooking show called “Kitchen 11” when I was in OKC.

CU360: What are your goals looking ahead, on and off the court?

EK: On court: to return to the conference finals and compete to get to the Finals, to be a good teammate and help the young guys adjust to life in the NBA and share with them my postseason experience. Off court: to continue working hard, serving the community and living for others, because what you do off the court is more important than what you do on the court. We can touch so many people's heart, so I'm trying as much as I can to touch other people’s life.


Jared Zwerling is the Founder and President of CloseUp360. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.