By Brett Martel
AP Sports Writer
NEW ORLEANS — The NBA has decided to hold the 2017 All-Star Game in New Orleans after taking the midseason event out of North Carolina because of a state law that limits anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people.
New Orleans, announced Friday as the new location of the game, replaces Charlotte, which was set to host the game until the NBA decided last month to move it elsewhere.
Unlike several other Southern states, Louisiana has not been swept up in legislative efforts to pass laws similar to that in North Carolina — a fact Gov. John Bel Edwards has touted while lobbying the NBA to bring its All-Star weekend to New Orleans.
“We embrace our rich cultural heritage and see our diversity as a virtue,” Edwards wrote in a letter to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in late July. “Should the NBA choose to bring the All-Star Game back to New Orleans in 2017, it will strongly reaffirm its commitment to communities that value fairness and inclusion.”
The NBA’s decision — and the economic boost it will bring — provides a timely dose of good news following disastrous flooding across large swaths of southeast Louisiana that has killed at least 13 people and damaged an estimated 40,000 homes, mostly around Baton Rouge. Much of the New Orleans metropolitan area has been spared from the flooding.
“While we move into the recovery phase of this disaster, I want to thank the NBA for the vote of confidence in our state to host this event and their support of the relief efforts currently under way,” Edwards said.
This marks the third time New Orleans, which became an NBA city for the second time in 2002, has been selected to host the league’s All-Star Game.
When the All-Star Game first came in 2008, the NBA spearheaded numerous community service projects aimed at helping neighborhoods hard hit by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. The NBA will be presented with similar opportunities next year to assist flooded communities within an hour’s drive of New Orleans.
Indeed, the New Orleans Pelicans and the NFL’s Saints, both owned by Tom Benson, already have begun deploying administrative staff to assist flood relief efforts while opening the teams’ headquarters as a collection point for donations of basic supplies for flood victims.
“As we know, the NBA will engage thousands of local children and charities during this weekend,” Benson said in written comments thanking the NBA for choosing New Orleans.
All-Star weekend also came to the Big Easy in 2014, when Pelicans forward and center Anthony Davis made his All-Star debut. Davis would play the All-Star Game in his home arena again if he is named to the Western Conference squad for a fourth straight season.
New Orleans, which has a history of hosting major sporting events, has seen its last two bids to host a Super Bowl come up short. It also bid unsuccessfully to host one of the NCAA Final Fours between 2017 and 2021. Those disappointments provided even more motivation for state and city officials to act decisively to lure the NBA All-Star Game after the league’s decision to take it away from the initially designated host city.
A number of entertainment acts, including a Bruce Springsteen concert, have canceled North Carolina events because of its so-called HB2 law.
Louisiana hasn’t enacted — or debated — a “bathroom bill” of the type passed in North Carolina. Edwards earlier this year issued an LGBT rights anti-discrimination order.
In the April order, the Democratic governor banned discrimination in state government based on sexual orientation and gender identity. State contracts also were required to comply, except contractors that are religious organizations. Edwards’ anti-discrimination order was similar to orders enacted by two former Louisiana Democratic governors — but he added language protecting against discrimination based on gender identity, a provision that protects transgender people.
Republican Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office has issued an opinion claiming that Edwards’ order has “no binding legal effect” and exceeds the governor’s authority. But the order hasn’t been challenged in court, and Edwards has vowed to follow it. Landry’s office also has joined 10 other states in a lawsuit filed in May against President Barack Obama’s administration over its directive to U.S. public schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.
The Human Rights Campaign, a national civil rights group working on behalf of lesbian, gay and transgender people, applauded the NBA’s decision to choose New Orleans.
“The NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver have sent a clear message to lawmakers in North Carolina and across the country that discrimination against LGBTQ people has consequences and will not be tolerated,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “New Orleans’ explicit LGBTQ non-discrimination protections will ensure all NBA employees, players, and fans who participate in the All-Star Game are protected from discrimination.”
The All-star Game is scheduled for Feb. 19, which falls during the first weekend of Mardi Gras parades. That weekend presents some logistical challenges for New Orleans in terms of policing and traffic control, but considerably less so than the following weekend, when the largest parades roll in the days leading up to Fat Tuesday, which is Feb. 28.
“The combination of NBA All-Star with the first weekend of Mardi Gras will provide our residents, visitors and NBA fans an even more special experience,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said.