Enes Kanter has started a halal food craze that has absorbed the Thunder’s locker room after road games—and stocked it with lamb platters and chicken kebabs.
In the middle of every Oklahoma City road game, David Howarth’s phone buzzes in his pocket. The Thunder’s athletic performance coordinator excuses himself from the bench and escapes to the arena’s loading dock. That’s where he picks up the team’s dinner: takeout halal food.
This is not what most NBA teams eat after games. But the more adventurous Thunder players have done away with the traditional locker-room fare this season. Instead they’re digging into generous helpings of lamb and chicken kebabs.
The person responsible for Oklahoma City’s culinary revolution isn’t Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook or any other Thunder starter. It is Enes Kanter, the team’s reserve center, who is Muslim and observes his religion’s dietary laws.
Thunder executives took measures to accommodate Kanter’s religion when they traded for the Turkish-born big man last year and signed him to a long-term extension in the off-season. He has access to his own prayer room in the team’s arena, for example, and uses owner Clay Bennett’s office in the team’s practice center, where he uses towels as prayer rugs. The team also made sure that Kanter’s very first meal in Oklahoma City was cooked under halal standards, which means the meat was raised and slaughtered properly, and Thunder chefs started cooking for him with separate kitchenware.
But what happened next was something no one anticipated. The halal takeover started when Thunder center Steven Adams asked Kanter if he would share his post-game dinner. “Pretty much as soon as he came in,” Adams said, “I just told him that I’m eating his food, so I told the guys to order double.”
Westbrook and Serge Ibaka then began tearing into the halal trays. Before long, Thunder officials were searching the Internet for the top-rated Turkish and Middle Eastern restaurants in other cities when the team was on the road, all so they could feed a full lineup of NBA players with enormous appetites.
“It’s like a mini-party,” said Thunder medical director Donnie Strack. “Everyone wants to steal Enes’s food.”
Kanter eats halal because of his religion. Adams eats halal for a slightly different reason.
“Because it’s awesome,” he said.
Now, after Kanter’s first full season in Oklahoma City, the team has a rotation of halal restaurants in NBA cities—and their players have become food critics.
“What’s our best city?” Adams said. “Orlando?”
“Boston?” Kanter said.
“Boston was good, wasn’t it?” Adams said. “Boston was the best city. I don’t know the top five, but Boston was definitely No. 1.”
They say there is a science to halal quality: The bigger the city, the better the food. The Thunder happened to be in Brooklyn this year when the Northeast was blanketed in several feet of snow, but that didn’t stop Kanter from leaving the Thunder’s hotel in search of the borough’s standout Turkish food. That week, when the Thunder played the New York Knicks, the full team meal was a Turkish feast. Outside their Madison Square Garden locker room were tables of halal food. “Everyone’s starting to jump on board,” Adams said, “just because it tastes so good.”
But not quite everyone. Durant is the Thunder’s highest-profile halal holdout. While others peek at Kanter’s plate, Durant sticks with staples of the NBA diet, which tends to be heavy on grilled chicken and, for the Thunder, brisket and short rib. Durant still knows all about the halal situation.
“I think it’s bull—,” he joked after a recent practice. “I’ve been here for nine years and I requested some stuff after the game and I have to pay for it on my own. And the second he gets here he gets his own menu.” Durant’s faux-outrage, however, may come from his personal taste for the food: “It’s nasty to me,” he said.
Durant may have it right. Do his teammates know what makes the food halal? Shouting allah akbar while slicing the neck and letting the animal bleed to death (just as they do to non-Muslims and apostates).
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