Portland Trail Blazers center Enes Kanter has been preparing for the holy month of Ramadan, when he will face the challenge of playing NBA basketball while fasting and refusing drink from sunrise until dusk.
As difficult as that might sound, Kanter, a devout Muslim from Turkey, is so experienced with fasting that he has somewhat mastered the process. He’s been doing this since he was under the age of 10. Even as a teenager playing competitive basketball as an international star.
“Until now, I think I’ve done a really good job by not passing out,” Kanter said with a laugh. “But for all the Muslims, it’s a very holy month. I’m really excited to do it.”
Kanter’s daily fasts will begin Tuesday and continue for 30 days. But playing hungry and thirsty isn’t as bad as it might sound, Kanter said.
“Once the game is going, you don’t think about ‘you’re thirsty,’ you don’t think about ‘you’re hungry’ or anything like that,” he said. “You’re just focusing on the game.”
But this season will come with a few twists that will make the experience different for Kanter. Followers during Ramadan abstain from food, water, any vices and sometimes medicine between sunrise to sunset. The start of Ramadan moves up 11 days every year, and this season Kanter will play more NBA games than he has ever played during Ramadan because of when it falls on the calendar. In fact, this will be only the second time in Kanter’s 10-year career that he has had to play any NBA games during Ramadan, which commemorates the month Allah started to reveal the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad and inspires followers to adhere to it in an effort to grow closer to Allah.
RAMADAN FALLS DURING BUSY TIME
Drafted in 2011, the NBA season ended before Ramadan started in the summer from 2012 through 2015. In 2016, while Kanter was with his original team, Oklahoma City, Ramadan started on June 7, a week after the Thunder had been eliminated on May 30 by Golden State in the Western Conference finals. The Thunder were out of the postseason even earlier the following season, and in 2018 Kanter played with the New York Knicks, who did not reach the playoffs. In 2019, Kanter landed with the Blazers, who with his help reached the Western Conference finals. Ramadan ran from May 5 to June 4. The Blazers played eight games during that time before being eliminated by the Warriors in the West finals on May 20.
This run did prove challenging, but nothing Kanter couldn’t handle. He started most of the team’s playoff games because Jusuf Nurkic was out with a broken leg. Kanter at the time was a little worried, only because he didn’t want to let the team down during the playoffs, but his preparedness and experience got him through.
The experience also produced a story of Kanter scarfing down six peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at dusk before a West semifinals game against Denver.
Last season, Kanter played for Boston but the season was halted in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic and Ramadan began April 23. Staying home made it easier for him to resist consumable temptations.
“It was the easiest Ramadan I’ve ever had,” Kanter said. “I was in quarantine. We didn’t go anywhere. We were just chillin’ in the house.”
Now comes this season.
On one hand, Kanter won’t have the burden of starting many games, if any, because Nurkic is healthy. So, Kanter can expect about 20 minutes of action per game, certainly easier than playing for 30-plus minutes on an empty stomach and craving liquids. Kanter on Saturday set a franchise record with 30 rebounds in a win over Detroit while also scoring 24 points in 37 minutes while Nurkic sat as a precautionary measure because of an inflamed knee.
On most nights, Kanter won’t be starting.
However, this season he will have to play up to 16 games during Ramadan, twice as many as he played during the 2019 playoffs. But that’s where Kanter’s experience and know-how come into play. Kanter said success comes from being mentally prepared.
“One thing about Ramadan, I feel like it is all up in your head,” Kanter said. “It’s all about just mental strength.”
Kanter said he preps for Ramadan by fasting a couple of times during the season.
“So, when Ramadan time comes, you can be prepared and your body can be ready,” he said. “So, I don’t believe it’s gonna be hard at all this year.”
Before the sun comes up, he will consume as much food as possible. The pre-fast meal is called Suhur.
“I try to shove my face as much as I can,” Kanter said. “I try to eat so much; you have no idea.”
Kanter’s go-to is burritos and anything else heavy. He said legendary NBA center Hakeem Olajuwon, also a Muslim who played often played during Ramadan, recommended to Kanter that he eat a lot of oatmeal and dates. The two have become friends, and Kanter said that one of the biggest thrills of his life came when Olajuwon told him how proud he was of him for his commitment.
“He inspired me a lot,” Kanter said.
Eating more food than most could fathom helps get Kanter through the day, even if he has to play a game. He said the more difficult part is not drinking liquids during games.
During timeouts, Kanter sits on the bench and watches as cold cups of water or Gatorade get passed around to players while he has to wave off the drinks.
“Your teammates next to you are drinking cold Gatorade or cold water and you just stare at them like, ‘Oh, that must feel so good,’” Kanter described. “But other than that, I don’t think there’s like a challenge, because I’ve done this for so long and my body’s used to it.”
This time around Kanter might not have to deal with as much water envy as he did in 2019, even while playing more games, because of Ramadan starting in April when the days are shorter than they are in May.
“It’s good because the more it moves back, the less that you’re going to fast because the days are shorter,” Kanter said.
During the 2019 playoffs, with Ramadan starting on May 5 and the Blazers being eliminated on May 20, daylight hours varied from 14 1/2 hours to just over 15 hours on May 20.
On Tuesday, daylight hours will run about 13 1/2 hours, then grow to just under 15 hours when Ramadan ends.
“Two years ago, days were really, really long because it was the summertime during the playoffs,” Kanter said.
That meant it got darker later and longer into games. This time around, Kanter should be able to get liquids into his body earlier in games, and even eat.
“I’ll let the ball boys know that when the time hits, I’m about to break my fast,” Kanter said. “I might have some burritos on the bench.”
A pizza man making a delivery at dusk might be out of the question, but Kanter said he liked the idea.
“That would be so good,” he said.
Breaking the Ramadan fast is called iftar.
Kanter said he was extremely appreciative of how his teammates supported him in 2019 and expects the same this time around.
“The support I get from my teammates is so big, and coaches,” he said.
Norman Powell said Kanter will be the first teammate he’s played with who observed Ramadan, but he has been around some coaches that do so.
“It’s amazing to see,” Powell said. “I know it’s because of religious beliefs … I tip my hat to him for being able to do that.”
Coach Terry Stotts said he has coached others who observed Ramadan and has never been concerned that a player wouldn’t be able to perform well.
“I think the guys that observe Ramadan know what they need to do to take care of themselves and still observe the holiday,” Stotts said. “I haven’t seen it affect any of the players that I’ve coached, and I have a lot of respect for what they do.”
Aside from following Ramadan’s rules for religious reasons, Kanter said he views fasting as a challenge for his body and his mental strength. It also brings him inner peace.
“It puts my body and my mind in very good discipline,” he said.
Kanter also visits countries where he sees harsh living conditions.
“I saw kids that couldn’t even find clean water to drink,” he said. “Forget about eating food. It definitely makes you appreciate what you have. And it keeps you humble. And it keeps you feeling a lot of empathy. And also, whenever you try to help others or give back to the community, you understand those people way better.”
This content was originally published here.