By Brian Mahoney
AP Basketball Writer
The NBA is moving the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte because of its objections to a North Carolina law that limits anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people.
The league had expressed its opposition to the law known as HB2 since it was enacted in March, and its decision Thursday came less than a month after state legislators revisited the law and chose to leave it largely unchanged.
“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 HB2,” the league said in a statement.
The league added that it hoped to announce a new location for next February’s events shortly. It hopes to reschedule the 2019 game for Charlotte if there is a resolution to the matter.
“We understand the NBA’s decision and the challenges around holding the NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte this season. There was an exhaustive effort from all parties to keep the event in Charlotte, and we are disappointed we were unable to do so,” Hornets chairman and Hall of Famer Michael Jordan said. “With that said, we are pleased that the NBA opened the door for Charlotte to host All-Star weekend again as soon as an opportunity was available in 2019.”
The league’s decision was first reported by the Vertical.
Commissioner Adam Silver wanted to wait as long as possible to make one, believing positive dialogue could lead to changes it felt the law needed. But he also said a decision would need to be made this summer, and the league was disappointed when the General Assembly restored the ability of workers to use state law to sue over employment discrimination on the basis of race, religion and other factors — but left gender identity and sexual orientation unprotected.
There was no appetite among Republican lawmakers to change the provision requiring transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates in many public buildings — a measure at the heart of two legal challenges in federal court.
The law passed in a March special session also excludes sexual orientation and gender identity from antidiscrimination protections related to the workplace, hotels and restaurants; and overrules local antidiscrimination ordinances. Republican leaders have said the law was passed in response to a Charlotte ordinance that would have allowed transgender people to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity.
Governor Pat McCrory lashed out at the sports and entertainment industry and the media in response to the NBA’s announcement.
“The sports and entertainment elite, Attorney General Roy Cooper and the liberal media have for months 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 said in a statement issued by his office.
The law has drawn opposition from a number of entertainers who have canceled performances in North Carolina. Duke recently had to replace one of its games scheduled for next season when Albany was prevented from traveling to Raleigh by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s travel ban.
“So our state’s lost a lot,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Thursday.
The fate of the state law is likely to be decided in federal courts where dueling lawsuits are being heard, with a judge saying he wants to start trial in four of the five cases by early November. He’s also set an Aug. 1 hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction to block the law’s bathroom access provision.
Charlotte officials have said they expected the event to have an economic impact of around $100 million, based on data from recent All-Star Games in the comparable New Orleans and Orlando markets. The game could rival the $164 million economic impact of the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, the largest financial bump of any event for the city.
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts expressed disappointment that the law’s “discriminatory actions” led to the NBA’s decision and hoped the city will get another shot at the showcase in 2019.
“All-Star weekend would have provided an excellent opportunity to further showcase our great and welcoming city. Charlotte has shown its commitment to equal rights and inclusion and will continue to promote those values,” Roberts said in a statement. “I appreciate the NBA and our Charlotte Hornets being such strong champions of equality.”
Several NBA cities could be in line to host the game, including New Orleans — which has hosted the league’s midseason showcase twice. The Pelicans are owned by Tom Benson.
“New Orleans has demonstrated time and again our ability to successfully host some of the largest and most visible sporting events and celebrations in the world, including the 2008 and 2014 NBA All-Star Games,” Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation President and CEO Jay Cicero said Thursday after the league’s announcement. “We will do everything possible to assist the NBA, Mr. and Mrs. Benson and the New Orleans Pelicans in their efforts, if called upon.”
Silver has said having Jordan, one of the NBA’s most recognized figures, in Charlotte was one of reasons to have the game there. He also praised Charlotte’ plans that had been made for renovations, which included upgrading the infrastructure, suites and scoreboard — all of which have been completed or are close to being completed.
On Thursday, Jordan thanked city leaders for their support.
“We want to thank the City of Charlotte and the business community for their backing throughout this entire process, starting with the initial bid,” Jordan said. “We are confident that they will be just as supportive and enthusiastic for the 2019 NBA All-Star Game.”