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New Orleans – not Charlotte – hosts NBA All-Star party this weekend

Rachel Seibel walks past signs being put up for the NBA All-Star Game festivities this weekend in New Orleans.
Rachel Seibel walks past signs being put up for the NBA All-Star Game festivities this weekend in New Orleans. AP

Down in New Orleans this weekend, Charlotte Hornet Kemba Walker makes his debut as an NBA All-Star, then will host a finale party with Allen Iverson and rapper 2Chainz. Grammy winner John Legend headlines the All-Star Game’s halftime show. Stars like Nick Cannon and Mark Cuban will play in the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game.

Back in Charlotte, the scene at the Spectrum Center will be much more subdued, as the NBA’s decision to move its All-Star festivities over North Carolina’s House Bill 2 – the controversial law that limits legal protections for LGBT people – hits home.

The uptown arena will host a Christian music tour Sunday for $10 at the door, as well as the Hornets’ youth basketball clinic on Saturday and Monday.

Meanwhile, the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans will be bustling with celebrities and the best basketball players in the world during an already festive Mardi Gras weekend. And the city that’s home to one of the country’s oldest gay bars will be putting its embrace of the LGBT community on full display, complete with equality-focused receptions and forums with the NBA and LGBT groups.

Charlotte’s selection to host the All Star game was a moment of incredible pride for North Carolina,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement Friday, noting how the game could have infused millions into the local economy. “Because of HB2, that money went elsewhere.”

This week in the Times-Picayune, the newspaper’s editorial board relished the opportunity to put the city’s inclusiveness in the national spotlight: “There will be the usual skills, three-point and dunk contests, and the league’s superstar players will square off at the Smoothie King Center Sunday night. But New Orleans – a city famous for its broad-mindedness – also will get a chance to be a star.”

In Raleigh, state lawmakers remain deadlocked over the controversial bill that prompted the NBA to relocate the All-Star Game in the first place: Cooper proposed a plan this week to repeal HB2 and toughen penalties for bathroom crimes. GOP leaders, however, say they won’t support the compromise.

The league has said if the bill were changed, Charlotte can host the 2019 All-Star Game. Unchanged, the bill also threatens to keep dozens of future NCAA events – as well as ACC and CIAA games – out of the state for years to come, too.

Since the bill’s passage March 23, Charlotte Hornets President Fred Whitfield, alongside other sports and business leaders, has been making trips to Raleigh and speaking with lawmakers to try to encourage a change in HB2, which they say has been bad for business.

“We do have a lot of things in play sports-wise and otherwise that have been and most likely will continue to be affected if we don’t find a meaningful resolution to HB2,” Whitfield said this week.

In the meantime, some of the NBA’s biggest stars will miss a chance to showcase the game in Charlotte.

Hornets owner Michael Jordan, who turned 54 Friday, has been passionate about holding the All-Star Game in Charlotte. And Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry, who grew up in Charlotte and will play in this weekend’s game, has said he’s disappointed his hometown team won’t host this year’s matchup.

For Hornets fans who want to watch Walker’s All-Star debut, they can still catch him in Saturday’s 3-point contest and in Sunday’s game – by tuning into TNT.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

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