NBA Moves All-Star Game from North Carolina to Protest Anti-LGBT Law

Friday, July 22, 2016
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver (photo: Steven Freeman, Getty Images)


By Scott Cacciola and Alan Blinder, New York Times


The National Basketball Association on Thursday dealt a blow to the economy and prestige of North Carolina by pulling February’s All-Star Game from Charlotte to protest a state law that eliminated anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.


The move was among the most prominent consequences since the law, which also bars transgender people from using bathrooms in public buildings that do not correspond with their birth gender, was passed in March.


The league, which has become increasingly involved in social issues, said that both it and the Hornets, the NBA team based in Charlotte, had been talking to state officials about changing the law but that time had run out because of the long lead time needed to stage the game. The NBA said it hoped the game could be played in Charlotte in 2019, with the clear implication that the law would have to be changed before then.


“While we recognize that the NBA cannot choose the law in every city, state and country in which we do business, we do not believe we can successfully host our All-Star festivities in Charlotte in the climate created by the current law,” a statement by the league said.


Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina issued a blistering statement soon after the announcement by the NBA. He said “the sports and entertainment elite,” among others, had “misrepresented our laws and maligned the people of North Carolina simply because most people believe boys and girls should be able to use school bathrooms, locker rooms and showers without the opposite sex present.”


McCrory did not specifically refer to the NBA in his statement, but he said, “American families should be on notice that the selective corporate elite are imposing their political will on communities in which they do business, thus bypassing the democratic and legal process.”


Others weighed in in support of the NBA’s move, including two of its broadcast partners — Turner Sports and ESPN.


In taking the action it did, the NBA is following the path taken by others. A number of musicians, including Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr and Itzhak Perlman, canceled concerts in North Carolina to protest the law, and there have been calls for repeal of the legislation by a number of businesses, some of which have canceled plans to create jobs in the state.


All-Star weekend is one of the flashiest and lucrative events on the league’s annual schedule. In addition to the game, the league arranges three days full of activities for fans. There is a separate game for the league’s rising stars, a dunk contest and a 3-point contest.


Now all of that will be held elsewhere in February, with the NBA to announce a new site for the game in the next few weeks.


The decision by the NBA comes after its commissioner, Adam Silver, had strongly hinted that such a move might be coming and again thrusts the league into the middle of social issues now gripping the nation, setting the league apart, at least for now, from Major League Baseball, the National Football League and other sports entities.


In recent weeks, a number of the NBA’s top players have spoken out in dismay as they reacted to shootings around the country that have left police officers dead in two cities and the police accused of deadly recklessness in several other cases.


And in December, the NBA participated in a series of television advertisements denouncing gun violence that aired during its long Christmas Day schedule of games.


Players in the NBA’s sister league — the WNBA — have also become vocal. In recent weeks, players on several WNBA teams wore T-shirts during warm-ups before games that addressed the recent shootings.


On Thursday, just hours before the NBA announced it was pulling the All-Star Game out of Charlotte, the WNBA fined the players on three teams $500 apiece, and the clubs $5,000, saying it had no problem with the players’ public “engagement'’ with difficult social issues but drew the line at violating the guidelines on team uniforms.


A number of WNBA players stated their unhappiness with the fines and they drew support from the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony, who has been one of the most outspoken NBA players this past month. He said Thursday that he saw no reason for “anybody to get fined.”


The action by the NBA is also certain to inject new fervor into the debate about North Carolina’s law, which many people still refer to as House Bill 2.


Before its adjournment this month, and in defiance of pleas from public officials and corporate executives in Charlotte, the General Assembly resisted demands that it back away from some of the most contentious elements of the law, which supporters have argued is about public safety, not discrimination.


The fate of the law, which the U.S. Justice Department has challenged as a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, will most likely be settled in court. A federal judge in Winston-Salem will hear arguments next month about whether to block the law while the litigation is pending.


Even before the NBA’s action Thursday, Republicans in North Carolina had signaled repeatedly that the league’s misgivings about the law were unlikely to persuade its supporters.


“Our values are not shaped by the NBA or Bruce Springsteen or some opinion poll,” state Rep. Phil Shepard, a Republican and a Baptist minister, declared at a rally in April. “We’re standing strong.”


But it was also in April that Silver was spelling out how problematic the NBA thought the law was. He noted at the time that the league had a “long record of speaking out where we see discrimination.'’


Last week, Silver weighed in again, saying of North Carolina’s legislators: “We were frankly hoping that they would make some steps toward modifying the legislation and frankly I was disappointed that they didn’t.'’


It remains to be seen whether any other major sports organization may take action in connection with the North Carolina law. Notably, the NCAA’s Division I men’s basketball tournament has first- and second-round games scheduled for North Carolina in 2017 and 2018 but has given no indication that it might move them elsewhere.


However, Mike Krzyzewski, the coach at Duke, which is in Durham, and has long been one of the NCAA’s most prominent basketball teams, has been sharply critical of the North Carolina law.


He has been in Las Vegas this week coaching the men’s national basketball team as it trains for next month’s Summer Olympics, and Thursday he said North Carolina had “lost a lot” because of the legislation.


He had previously described the law as "embarrassing.”


Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina and the only openly gay member of the state’s General Assembly, said in a telephone interview Thursday that the NBA was making a strong statement by removing one of its marquee events from Charlotte.


“The state of North Carolina grossly overreached by passing the worst anti-LGBT bill in the nation, and they have cost us the NBA All-Star Game,” Sgro said. “The blame for $100 million in economic loss and the impact that it has on the city of Charlotte and the entire state is squarely at the feet of the McCrory machine.”


State legislators are not scheduled to reconvene until January.


“I could very well see a special session to deal with this issue,” Sgro said. “We’re going to continue to sustain incredible economic harm if we don’t repeal House Bill 2.”


To Learn More:

North Carolina to Spend Half a Million Dollars Defending LGBT Discrimination (by Gary D. Robertson and Jonathan Drew, Associated Press)

North Carolina Anti-LGBT Law Puts $1.4 Billion in Federal College Funding and $800k in Student Loans at Risk (by Emery P. Dalesio, Associated Press)

Big Corporations Face Off with Republican State Lawmakers over Discriminatory LGBT Bills (by Kathleen Foody, Associated Press)

Springsteen Band Member Calls Anti-LGBT Law “Evil Virus” After Bruce Cancels N.C. Concert (by John Carucci, Associated Press)


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