This weekend, thousands of tourists will flock into uptown for the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association’s signature basketball tournament – one of Charlotte’s few remaining major sporting events that hasn’t relocated from North Carolina over opposition to House Bill 2.
The tournament is expected to draw around 150,000, though the entertainment throughout the weekend is arguably as big of a draw every year as the basketball. Migos, the Atlanta hip-hop trio that created the Dab, performs Friday at Oasis Uptown, for instance, and rapper Jeezy headlines a party at V Charlotte Saturday.
As legislators in Raleigh have yet to reach consensus on an HB2 repeal compromise, the CIAA show goes on in Charlotte. The tournament’s future here, however, isn’t so certain – it’s possible the Charlotte-based conference could relocate its signature event if no changes are made to HB2.
“If there are no changes to HB2, our board will continue to reconvene and talk about it. I couldn’t tell you what that decision would be,” CIAA Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams told the Observer.
“The decision we make, whether we stay or go, it impacts our students being able to play in front of their fans,” she said. Eight of the CIAA’s 12 member schools are in North Carolina.
Much like the NBA this year used its All-Star Game, relocated from Charlotte to New Orleans, as a forum to talk about inclusion, organizers of this year’s CIAA tournament hope the event will be a platform from which to address off-the-court issues like diversity, inclusion and equality.
“We are concerned about the law that discriminates. We are concerned when there is civil unrest. But how do we manage that and use it as an opportunity to educate, create awareness, and still allow these student athletes to play?” McWilliams said.
For the first time, the CIAA is hosting a free public TED-style forum Friday that highlights “intersectional experiences of race, gender and LGBTQ inclusion.” The talk includes speakers like Kevin Merida, editor in chief of ESPN’s Undefeated platform, and partners like Equality NC, an LGBT rights organization.
The CIAA, the oldest African-American sports conference, in September opted to move eight out of its 10 sports championships from North Carolina because of HB2, much like the NCAA and ACC had done with their events days before. The NCAA is in the midst of reviewing site bidding to host future games. Without changes to HB2, North Carolina could lose dozens of championship events for the next six years.
Moving out of North Carolina, however, would be complicated for the CIAA. When it announced in 2014 that it would renew its contract with Charlotte for six more years in 2014, the conference said it would relocate its headquarters here from Hampton, Va.
The CIAA is a member of the Charlotte Chamber and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce, and involves itself year-round in other community initiatives through nonprofits like the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African- American Arts + Culture, McWilliams noted.
“I think the board’s decision to stay here was a good decision because of the obligations we have in this community,” she added about the 2017 basketball tourney.
McWilliams also said sports can be a unifier of sorts at a time of division among communities, especially following the September shooting of a black man, Keith Lamont Scott, by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer, and amid the fear in immigrant communities over the rise in arrests of undocumented people.
In New Orleans, the NBA last weekend hosted its annual All-Star Game, which the league pulled from Charlotte in July in one of the most prominent HB2 protest moves. New Orleans is home to one of the country’s oldest gay bars, and put its embrace of the LGBT community on full display, complete with equality-focused receptions and forums with the NBA and LGBT groups.
The CIAA, NBA, ACC, NCAA and dozens of other businesses and individuals who oppose HB2 say it is discriminatory toward the LGBT community. The law limits legal protections for LGBT people, and also mandates that transgender people use the restroom in public facilities that corresponds with the gender on their birth certificate. Supporters say the law is necessary to keep sexual predators out of public restrooms.
The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority estimated the CIAA basketball tournament’s total economic impact in 2015 to be around $55.6 million, far exceeding the estimated impact of the ACC’s title football game.