The NBA said Friday that North Carolina’s LGBT law is “problematic” for the league, but it hasn’t made any decisions to move the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte.
The announcement means Charlotte dodges, for now, a potential economic blow – but it keeps alive the national pushback to House Bill 2, which limits protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.
The All-Star Game, set for Feb. 17 at Time Warner Cable Arena, is projected to pump $100 million into Charlotte’s economy and draw more visitors than any event since the Democratic National Convention.
“The current state of the law is problematic for the league. But we’re not making any announcements now,” Commissioner Adam Silver said at the conclusion of the league’s board of governors meetings in New York. “We can be most constructive by working with elected officials to effect change.”
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Silver added that it would be “easy to grandstand” by saying the league would move the All-Star Game. But he noted the Charlotte Hornets compete in a playoff game in the city next week. “I’m not sure what statement we’d be making about our team in North Carolina if we moved the All-Star Game,” Silver said.
But in a statement later, the league clarified that Silver at no time stated the league wouldn’t move the game. “Rather he stressed repeatedly that the legislation is problematic.”
Since Gov. Pat McCrory signed HB2 on March 23, hundreds of businesses around the country have spoken out against the measure. PayPal announced April 5 it was canceling plans to open an operations center in Charlotte that would employ 400.
The business backlash could be the first wave of more to come, said John Vrooman, a professor of sports economics at Vanderbilt University.
“The mega-hit already taken by the Queen City’s progressive reputation by the discriminatory and divisive NC LGBT law will be economically real and significantly larger and more tangible than the actual economic impact of the loss of a one-time event like the NBA All-Star Game,” Vrooman said.
Silver said that on Friday no votes were taken at the board of governors meeting about moving the game, but it was unanimous in the room that “we stand united against any form of discrimination.”
This isn’t the first time the NBA under Silver has pushed back against actions it considers discriminatory.
Just a couple of months after Silver became commissioner, then-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling made comments regarded as racist, including one referring to former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson. The league forced Sterling to sell, and Silver was lauded for his crisis management.
“Sports can be used as a constructive force to bring people together. Ultimately our interest is in conducting a successful All-Star Game in North Carolina and having a team that can play there in a nondiscriminatory environment,” Silver said.
Charlotte, which last hosted the All-Star Game in 1991, won the bid to host the 2017 game last June. The city agreed in 2014 to pay $27.5 million toward arena improvements, many of which are required under an operating agreement with the Hornets, who play in the arena and operate it for the city. The NBA saw those improvements as key to any All-Star bid.
Last month the Hornets secured funding from 15 sponsors for the game, including Bank of America, CPI Security, Lowe’s, Babson Capital and Power Secure.
HB2 was a response to a provision in Charlotte’s expanded nondiscrimination ordinance that would allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender with which they identify.
Earlier this week, McCrory issued an executive order that walked back parts of HB2, but pushback continued from businesses and other groups opposed to the law, saying more needs to be done. Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat running for governor, has said neither he nor his staff would fight in court to uphold the new state law.
On Friday, McCrory said he was “pleased the NBA is continuing its long-standing tradition of encouraging dialogue on complex issues facing many states across the nation.”
Senate leader Phil Berger said in a statement: “While Roy Cooper and his left-wing allies won’t be happy until any man can go into any women’s bathroom or locker room at any time, we appreciate Gov. McCrory for working extensively with the NBA and would be happy to meet with NBA representatives to better understand their concerns.”
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts said the city “shares the NBA’s commitment to equal rights for all and we look forward to working with the NBA and with all of our partners toward constructive change.”
Even Golden State Warriors standout Steph Curry, who grew up in Charlotte, chimed in.
“It sucks that (the controversy) is in my home state where a lot of great people live,” Curry said in practice Friday in Oakland, Calif. “The All-Star Game hopefully being in Charlotte will be a huge thing for the city. I know the NBA will make the right decision when it comes time.”
Staff Writers Jim Morrill and Rick Bonnell, and the Associated Press contributed.