The Boston Celtics’ back-up center Enes Freedom, originally known as Enes Kanter until he legally changed his name last week, joins a small group of NBA players who have done the same while still active in the league.
Freedom’s move came a few days before the Turkish big man was officially granted U.S. citizenship which is just the latest chapter in his outspoken off-court life. He has previously been vocal in the media against Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and, more recently, has come after Nike and LeBron James for their business dealings in China.
The 6’10 Celtic has become better known for his activism and it is often overlooked that he was once the third overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft ahead of stars such as Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, and Kemba Walker to name a few.
While he never lived up to his lofty draft position, Freedom has had several productive seasons and has career averages of 11.4 points and 7.9 rebounds. The best stretch of his career came with the Oklahoma City Thunder for whom he played from 2015 to 2017. He was a deadly sixth man scorer on the final few Kevin Durant-led Thunder teams though his opportunities were always capped by his defensive limitations.
On a smaller scale, Freedom is reliving this role on a smaller scale with Celtics in his second go-around with the team. Although he is averaging only 12 minutes per game and even sees his fair share of DNP-CDs versus opponents who play smaller and more nimble line-ups, his frequent statements have kept him in the spotlight.
Freedom is not the first active player to undergo a legal name change and his recent actions make this the ideal time to look back on some of the other players who have also made the move.
The most prominent name on this list is six-time NBA champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who remains the leading scorer in league history with 38,387 career points. He became a household name around the globe in the 1980s while leading the Showtime Lakers to five championships over the decade.
Before he became Kareem though, he won the NBA title in 1971 with the Milwaukee Bucks franchise that drafted him while still bearing his birth name, Lew Alcindor. Following the title run with Milwaukee, he decided that he wanted to be called by his Muslim name, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which means “noble servant of the powerful One”.
The evolution of Ron Artest to Metta World Peace is the most notable name change in recent NBA history. Artest initially established himself as a hard nosed defender with the Chicago Bulls before he became a legitimate two-way weapon and blossomed into an NBA All-Star with the Indiana Pacers.
The trajectory of his career was sharply altered by the infamous Malice at the Palace in 2004. He managed to get back on track with the Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets before finally winning an NBA title in 2010 with the Los Angeles Lakers. In 2011, he changed his name to Metta World Peace then altered it once again in 2020 to Metta Sandiford-Artest. The word Metta is a Buddhist word that emphasizes friendliness and kindness towards others while his new surname incorporates his own from birth and that of his wife.
World B. Free
Arguably the catchiest name in NBA history, Lloyd Bernard Free was selected in the second round of the 1975 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers and became an All-Star in 1980 with the Los Angeles Clippers. That All-Star season was also his finest one statistically. Free, who was a 6’2 combo guard, averaged 30.2 points per game that year and was one of the pioneers for small players who used their high-flying abilities as a weapon to help them score.
In 1981, he legally changed his first name to World, which was already his nickname from his childhood days in New York to begin with, and he continued to play in the NBA until retiring in 1988.
Hakeem Olajuwon rose to prominence after winning back-to-back titles with the Houston Rockets in 1994 and 1995. Although his playing career ended in 2002, he remains a mythical figure around the league because of his awe-inspiring post moves that feed off his phenomenal footwork. He has become a mentor for the generation of players that has come after him, including Kobe Bryant and LeBron James who both sought to pick up his timeless techniques.
His name did not always start with an “H” though and he only began carrying it in 1991. He burst onto the scene as Akeem Olajuwon and was the first pick in the 1984 Draft two spots ahead of Michael Jordan. It is a testament to his abilities and the great career that he had that the Rockets selecting him over Jordan is never considered a mistake in the same manner that the Portland Trail Blazers picking Sam Bowie second overall is criticized.
He started out with a short temper, which is a far cry from the more calm demeanor that he carried while winning titles. He mellowed as he grew into a more devout Muslim and when he changed his name in 1991, he said that he was merely correcting it in accordance to the more conventional Muslim spelling of his name.