John Clay: The story behind 'Free Enes'

'Free Enes' signs are everywhere

jclay@herald-leader.com,JohnClayOctober 6, 2010 

Sometimes the words that move a generation are spoken with Churchill-like eloquence.

Sometimes they rise out of anger on the printed page.

Or sometimes they appear in a fan blog.

James Streble is a 28-year-old Louisville middle school teacher and passionate Kentucky fan who, along with his friend Lance Davis, runs a little sports blog titled Sports-That, primarily to exchange trash talk with friends who are Louisville fans.

On the morning of Aug. 25, Streble posted a blog entry of a fictitious letter imploring the government of Turkey to cease its claim to UK freshman basketball player Enes Kanter, whose collegiate eligibility is being investigated by the NCAA.

In the fake letter, Streble wrote: "Here is the ultimatum: Free Enes Kanter and let him lead the Wildcats to the Final Four or consider this letter a glove slap in the face. That's right, Turkey, you are being challenged to a duel."

That same day, at 6:04 a.m., Streble sent out a tweet saying, "Im starting the Free Enes Kanter campaign. I need to find somebody to make shirts, bumper stickers and signs."

Four hours later, his friend, Lance, issued a tweet with the hashtag #freeEnes.

Two weeks later, on Sept. 7, none other than DeMarcus Cousins, whom Streble and Davis had exchanged tweets with in the past, put the following on his Twitter account: "#FreeEnes #FreeEnes #FreeEnes #FreeEnes."

The next day, blogs such as Kentucky Sports Radio and pro-UK Twitter accounts picked up on Cousins' "Free Enes" tweet and began spreading the word.

The rest, as they say, is history.

"Free Enes" is nearly everywhere, on shirts, signs, cars, windows, shoes, fraternities, dormitories. One woman had her picture taken with a "Free Enes" sign in front of the New York Times.

"I'm amazed," Streble said on Tuesday. "I thought I was just kidding around with it. I mean I had a vision in my head of the Big Blue Nation using 'Free Enes' as a rallying cry, but I didn't think much more about it."

And now?

"Oh, my gosh, I mean this is real, it's like a national movement." Streble said. "People with 'Free Enes' signs are getting their picture taken at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium and in front of the nation's capital. It's crazy to think that a middle-school teacher, UK fanatic, blog nerd, did something that would resonate with the entire fan base."

Yet, despite his tweet for help, Streble never got around to making any T-shirts, or signs, or bumper stickers. He went about his usual routine of blogging, teaching and working his second job at Hibbett Sports in Louisville to "support my UK apparel habit. I get a 25 percent discount."

So what did he think when the whole "Free Enes" thing exploded?

"At first, I was kind of disappointed that I was the first one to come up with it, and I wasn't getting credit for it," he said. "I even wrote on the blog about it in a post 'Free Enes, you heard it here first.' "

In fact, Streble doesn't even own any "Free Enes" apparel or bumper stickers.

"I thought about it," he said, "but I thought why should I buy something that I came up with?"

So how did he come up with those two simple words that have moved a fan base?

"It just popped into my head as I was writing," Streble said. "I was thinking of the whole Kanter thing as a hostage situation. It wasn't anything that I dreamed the night before. I didn't have a vision, or some sort of prophecy or anything."

Now it has captured the imagination of the Big Blue Nation. Last weekend, when UK students were camping out at Memorial Coliseum for Madness tickets, "Free Enes" was, as Streble hoped, the rallying cry.

"Now, I think it's cool," he said. "The fact that I started it, and no one knows who I am, it's kind of funny."

Maybe, they will all know now.

"I just hope the Turkish government isn't spying on me," joked Streble. "I've seen the movie Midnight Express. That would not be good."

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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