With the threat of the NBA pulling its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte in the wake of House Bill 2, Hornets owner Michael Jordan reinforced his franchise’s position against any form of discrimination.
“As my organization has stated previously, the Charlotte Hornets and Hornets Sports & Entertainment are opposed to discrimination in any form, and we have always sought to provide an inclusive environment,” Jordan said in a statement to the Observer in response to an interview request regarding HB2.
“As has been the case since the building opened, we will continue to ensure that all fans, players and employees feel welcome while at work or attending NBA games and events at Time Warner Cable Arena.”
HB2 eliminated a Charlotte ordinance that would have allowed transgender people to use a bathroom based on their gender identity. Beyond that, it nullified any local laws that would protect gay or transgender people from being fired for their sexual orientation or identity. The law only applies to bathrooms and locker rooms in government buildings and schools. Private companies remain free to set their own bathroom and nondiscrimination policies.
Numerous companies doing business in North Carolina, including the NBA, have expressed concern with HB2. In addition, Charlotte and other North Carolina cities have begun losing convention business over the law. Some entertainers, including musician Bruce Springsteen, have canceled concerts scheduled in North Carolina.
The biggest response to HB2 could come from the NBA, possibly this summer. Charlotte was awarded the 2017 All-Star Weekend to be held at Time Warner Cable Arena and other venues, including the convention center. That event is projected to generate up to $100 million in economic impact next February.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has called HB2 “problematic” for the league. While Silver has tried to avoid sounding like the league is issuing an ultimatum to state government, his comments on HB2 suggest the league is prepared to move the event if the law isn’t changed.
“We’ve been, I think, crystal clear a change in the law is necessary for us to play in the kind of environment that we think is appropriate for a celebratory NBA event,” Silver said recently, meeting with members of the Associated Press Sports Editors.
Earlier that same day, during an interview on ESPN Radio, Silver said, “They know what’s at stake in terms of the All-Star Game. But at least at the moment, constructive engagement on our part is the best way to go, as opposed to putting a gun to their head and saying, ‘Do this or else.’ ”
While Silver and the league are working behind the scenes to change the law, the NBA has never suggested moving All-Star Weekend isn’t an option. That would probably have to be settled sometime this summer to give another city enough lead time to prepare to host the multi-day event and reserve sufficient hotel space.
The city of Atlanta has already lobbied the NBA.
Jordan’s comments are consistent with a statement previously released by the Hornets. But as arguably the most iconic former player in NBA history, anything Jordan says has weight.
The Hornets are partnering with various organizations, including the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, to organize the 2017 All-Star Weekend. That has already involved hundreds of hours of planning and signing up various local sponsors to help cover the costs of serving as host city.
The Carolina Panthers have yet to comment publicly on HB2, although team officials said last summer they would allow transgender men and women to use the restroom of their gender identity.
Scott Paul, director of operations for Bank of America Stadium, told the Observer in August the bathroom issue had not come up at the stadium in the past.
The NFL has said it will not move the league meetings scheduled in Charlotte May 23-25 in response to the HB2 controversy.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell