It was a pretty eventful summer for Turkish big man Enes Kanter and mostly not for the right reasons. On the court, though, things are looking up for Kanter, who comes off perhaps his finest season in the NBA playing next to the colorful Steven Adams.
Why did you and Steven Adams hit it off so quickly?
Enes Kanter: From Day 1, when I was traded from Utah to Oklahoma City, he was really helpful with everything. Not just on the court, but off the court. He was a really good friend and a really good locker room guy. He’s just a really good guy.
You were the Bruise Brothers at first, then the Moustache Brothers… What’s next?
EK: The moustache thing came in November because we were doing the Movember stuff. Only God knows what’s next. I have no idea.
Is the moustache going to stay for now?
EK: Right now, it looks like it’s staying. It’s fun stuff, we have all these people making these T-shirts.
Are you going to make money off it?
EK: Not right now, maybe in the future (laughs).
You get along really well with Russell Westbrook too. How’s that relationship?
EK: Like with Steven, from Day One he was super helpful. Plus I had never played with a point guard like him before. He’s like totally something different. I said this like a year ago… He’s like the Cristiano Ronaldo of basketball. Explosive guy, strong body, loves to work out… He’s like Cristiano Ronaldo.
You recently called him the leader of the Thunder last year. Did you really mean it?
EK: I really mean it. You see him on the court and off the court and he was the leader. He was leading the team and did a pretty good job.
When you left Utah, you took heat from Jazz fans. Do you feel kind of sorry for Kevin Durant knowing he’s probably going through the same thing?
EK: It’s a tough process, but I think he has to handle it well. OKC fans loved him, but I don’t know what’s going to happen when he comes back.
Has the atmosphere on the team changed much from last season to this year?
EK: The friendship is there. The atmosphere is really good and everybody is having fun. That’s the most important thing. We’re playing basketball and we’re having fun.
You were criticized for your defense in the past. Do you think you’ve improved there?
EK: I think so. If you compare the previous seasons, I feel much more comfortable on the court. I have more confidence in myself when I’m out there. It’s about knowing the game, reading it.
Did you expect Oklahoma City to be such a welcoming place for you?
EK: I didn’t know how well the organization was going to be for me, but from the start they respected everything – my religion, my beliefs and everything. It was amazing how the organization was for me. It’s like everybody is welcoming you.
When you learned you were going to have your own place to pray, what did it mean for you?
EK: It meant a lot to me because I’m in America and obviously it’s not a Muslim country, but the one thing I loved about Americans and Oklahoma City is that they are really respectful. Everything I do, whether it’s the food or the praying… they are really respectful. I just love it.
The Turkish food is pretty popular in the locker room, for what I’ve read.
EK: Yes! Steven Adams is the one who loves it the most. He just loves food and experiencing with new food. It takes time, but now he just loves it.
About the place where you pray… Was that something you requested or was it the franchise’s idea?
EK: I asked them for it and they gave it to me.
You signed your new contract last year. Back then, most were like, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money for Enes Kanter’, now it looks like a pretty reasonable deal, perhaps you may even be underpaid. Does that take some of the pressure off?
EK: I try not to think in those terms, more pressure or less pressure. I just go out there and do my best without minding about the money they give me. They try to do everything to make everybody happy, so when we play we just have to try our best to make the organization and the fans happy.
Do you think fans are optimistic about the season?
EK: The thing about fans is if you’re good, they are very supportive – especially in Oklahoma City.
You were lucky with home crowds. First Utah, then Oklahoma City. Pretty good fans in both places.
EK: OKC is different. When I was playing for Utah, I was like ‘OKC fans are the best’ and now I get to play for them and it’s crazy. It’s like a college crowd where you always have this crazy elements. The atmosphere is always crazy. Especially in the playoffs.
Are you happy about your life right now even with all the complicated situations you’ve had to go through recently?
EK: I’m happy. It’s the life that we have to go through. We have ups, we have downs and you have to keep on moving. Now I focus on basketball and doing everything I can for this organization.