NBA commissioner: Bringing 2019 All-Star Game to Charlotte remains ‘high priority’

Hornets Experience unveiled at Latta Park

Hornets owner Michael Jordan speaks at the dedication of the basketball courts by the Hornets and NBA at Latta Park in Dilworth, Tuesday morning, October 18, 2016.
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Hornets owner Michael Jordan speaks at the dedication of the basketball courts by the Hornets and NBA at Latta Park in Dilworth, Tuesday morning, October 18, 2016.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver calls bringing the All-Star Game to Charlotte “a high priority” in 2019 after the league decided almost three months ago to move the 2017 event from Charlotte to New Orleans.

But the controversial measure that caused the event to move – House Bill 2 – hasn’t changed, and Silver reiterated firmly Tuesday that if there’s no revision to the law, the All-Star Game won’t be here.

Silver was in town for the Charlotte Hornets’ unveiling of a renovated outdoor basketball court at Latta Park, one of three such courts the league and team are jointly upgrading. After the event, Silver told reporters the NBA is not boycotting North Carolina or lobbying other entities to overturn the law.

Silver said a consensus of the league’s 30 owners finds HB2 discriminatory toward the LGBT community to the extent the league can’t put its highest-profile event in such a setting. The bill, passed in March, sets a statewide legal definition of discrimination that excludes sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Our owners and teams are based all over the country in red states and blue states and purple states,” Silver said. “It was a strongly-held view that HB2 was inconsistent with the values of this league.”

Silver declined to say specifically what would have to change about HB2 for the NBA to follow through on its intent to host the 2019 All-Star Weekend in Charlotte. But he called it a misrepresentation that HB2 is predominately about which public bathroom transgender individuals are allowed to use.

“The issues that we are primarily focused on are acceptance and inclusiveness,” Silver said. “I think it’s a misnomer to call HB2 ‘the bathroom bill.’

“We’re committed to North Carolina. But for All-Star in particular, we want all members of our broader NBA family to feel comfortable here.

“My sense is people know exactly in what ways the bill needs to be addressed.”

The NBA pulled the 2017 All-Star Weekend out of Charlotte in July and later finalized an agreement to instead hold the three-night February event in New Orleans. Hornets chairman Michael Jordan and team president Fred Whitfield supported that decision, but also lobbied for another All-Star date should North Carolina’s HB2 position change.

“Nobody spoke more passionately about bringing the game back here than Michael,” said Silver, who agreed to tentatively schedule the next available date – 2019 – back to Charlotte. The 2018 game is slated to be held in Los Angeles.

When the league pulled the game from Charlotte, Gov. Pat McCrory called the NBA’s decision politically-motivated “B.S.” and pointed out the NBA holds two preseason exhibitions annually in China, a country notorious for its human rights issues.

“I can’t believe for the people of North Carolina, they want the bar to be on where they rank as far as China, on human rights,” Silver said.

Silver said there is no deadline for giving final approval to awarding the 2019 All-Star Game to Charlotte. Based on events of last summer, however, the NBA would have to know by mid-summer 2018 whether change in HB2 was happening.

That could happen in various ways. The federal and North Carolina governments have both sued, and those lawsuits could eventually determine whether HB2 is legal.

McCrory is also in a close re-election race with Democrat Roy Cooper, North Carolina’s attorney general, who is calling for a full repeal of HB2.

“My hope is that things will be resolved pretty quickly after the election,” Whitfield said.

The NBA became the first of multiple sports entities to pull major events out of North Carolina over HB2. In September, the NCAA pulled seven championship events out of the state, followed by the ACC, which has most notably moved the football championship game from Charlotte to Orlando, Fla. The CIAA also just said it’s relocating eight of 10 upcoming championship games from North Carolina, with the exception of the association’s signature event, the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in Charlotte.

Whitfield said he hasn’t yet begun discussions about the 2019 All-Star Game, but he and the team are hopeful sufficient changes will be made to HB2.

“We’re optimistic we’ll be hosting the game. I’m optimistic we’ll be hosting the eastern regionals of the second and third round of the NCAA in 2018, and the ACC men’s basketball tournament in 2019 as well,” Whitfield said.

In August, the Charlotte City Council voted to offer the NBA the same incentives for the 2019 All-Star Game as it did for the 2017 event, assuming that the league decides to bring the game back here. The next step is renegotiating contracts with hotels, sponsors and other businesses, a process that took “months and months,” Whitfield said.

Those in the Hornets back office have also been scrambling to attract more entertainers to the Spectrum Center after many of them – including Maroon 5 and Cirque du Soleil – started canceling their shows because of HB2.

Part of that work, Whitfield said, includes getting the message across that Charlotte is “a welcoming city.”

Under an agreement with the City of Charlotte, the Hornets operate the Spectrum Center and schedule concerts and other events. The team’s allowed to keep operating profits, but must also absorb losses if they don’t have enough events.

“We don’t even know which acts aren’t even looking at routing through our building because we’re sort of off the map with the entertainers that feel strongly in the way they do about what HB2 stands for. That’s probably where we’ve been damaged the most,” Whitfield said.

“We’ve been hit hard.”

The NBA and Hornets in September announced their court renovation plans, a project intended to show the league’s commitment to the city. Camp Green Park and Tuckasegee Park are home to the other two courts to be upfitted later during the NBA season, the team has said.