The previous time Charlotte hosted the NBA All-Star Game was 1991, and Michael Jordan was the game’s leading scorer. On his 56th birthday, Charlotte Hornets owner Jordan will host the 2019 All-Star Game, one of the biggest sporting events ever to come to Charlotte.
The NBA’s announcement Wednesday to place the 2019 All-Star Game in Charlotte followed nearly a year of heavy lifting by Charlotte business leaders to broker a deal on House Bill 2, the controversial LGBT bill that prompted the NBA to move its 2017 game from Charlotte.
Hornets President Fred Whitfield made so many trips to Raleigh over the last year that he started carpooling with other city business leaders. At stake, he said, was not just the All-Star Game, but the Hornets’ responsibility to bring other business to the Spectrum Center, as well as Charlotte’s reputation overall.
“Selfishly, I was fighting for Charlotte, our arena, our business and our team. There were others (in Raleigh) doing the same thing,” Whitfield told the Observer. “We saw a huge hit to our business community that was thriving and growing. It came to a screeching halt because of HB2.”
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The three-day All-Star event will be held Feb. 15-17 in 2019, climaxing with Sunday night’s All-Star Game. Most events, including the game and various skills competitions, will be held uptown at the Spectrum Center.
Charlotte was originally awarded the 2017 All-Star Weekend in summer 2015, but the NBA rescinded that decision last summer in response to HB2, which the league and other organizations denounced as discriminatory against LGBT individuals.
Gov. Roy Cooper in March signed a compromise bill that repealed HB2 but banned local governments from passing anti-discrimination ordinances for three years. Many argue that the measure doesn’t go far enough in addressing non-discrimination – the state still doesn’t have any non-discrimination policies that protect the LGBT community.
In a statement Wednesday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged the concerns of skeptics, but said the new bill “eliminates the most egregious aspects of the prior law.”
“Additionally, it allows us to work with the leadership of the Hornets organization to apply a set of equality principles to ensure that every All-Star event will proceed with open access and anti-discrimination policies,” Silver said.
That means that every business associated with the 2019 All-Star Game, such as the uptown hotels providing the nearly 6,000 rooms for the game, has had to sign onto a four-pillar set of non-discrimination principles outlined by the league.
The principles prohibit businesses from discriminating against customers and employees based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. They also mandate that businesses provide a restroom that will be open for use by all individuals consistent with their gender identities.
Also part of getting the game back included redoing agreements with the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority to use the Convention Center and Bojangles’ Coliseum, where events like the celebrity game will be held. It has also included the Hornets renewing its agreement with the city of Charlotte for services such as fire and police.
The CRVA estimates that the All-Star Game could have a total economic impact of $100 million on the Charlotte region.
All 15 of the 2017 All-Star Game’s original sponsors signed on for 2019 as well, said Pete Guelli, the Hornets’ chief marketing and sales officer.
In a way, Guelli said, Charlotte will be better positioned to host the All-Star Game in 2019 than it would have been in 2017. Perhaps most importantly, nearly 1,000 new hotel rooms will have opened by 2019 in uptown Charlotte.
Guelli said saving the All-Star Game in Charlotte became a particularly personal challenge for Whitfield.
“No one has put more time and effort into this than Fred. In a lot of ways, it turned into a passion project,” Guelli said. “I don’t think this happens without the effort he put in.”
The All-Star Weekend will be the largest event in Charlotte since the Democratic National Convention in 2012.
“All-Star weekend is an international event that will provide a tremendous economic impact to our community while showcasing our city, our franchise and our passionate Hornets fan base to people around the world,” Jordan said in a statement Wednesday.
The NBA tentatively reserved the 2019 All-Star Weekend for Charlotte after moving the 2017 event. NBA Commissioner Silver said last month that Charlotte was again eligible to host the event, but would have to demonstrate it can provide an inclusive atmosphere to visitors before receiving final approval.
Jordan supported the NBA’s decision to move the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, but made an impassioned plea to other owners for the city to get the 2019 event, should circumstances change to the league’s satisfaction.
“Michael made a plea to Adam at that time to consider putting the next available game on the shelf” for Charlotte, Whitfield recalled. “Adam and the league wanted Charlotte to know they weren’t turning their back on the city or our organization."