NBA moves 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte over HB2; 2019 return possible

In a major economic blow to the city, the NBA on Thursday said it’s moving the 2017 All-Star Weekend out of Charlotte over concerns about the state’s House Bill 2, in the latest and perhaps most high-profile fallout from the controversial law.

While the league said the event is moving to a yet-to-be-determined alternate city, the NBA has assured the Charlotte Hornets the 2019 event will return to Charlotte if issues involving House Bill 2 are resolved, officials said.

Hornets President Fred Whitfield told the Observer the NBA has no plans to put 2019 – the next available All-Star Weekend – out to general bid.

“We’ve been assured if the HB2 situation is resolved, we’ll be hosting” All-Star Weekend, Whitfield said.

Whitfield said top Hornets officials, including team owner Michael Jordan, met with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in Las Vegas recently to propose the 2019 compromise. That provides additional time to lobby the General Assembly to change the law to the NBA’s satisfaction.

HB2, a reaction to a Charlotte ordinance that extended nondiscrimination protection to LGBT people, mandates that transgender individuals must use the bathrooms in government buildings that correspond to the gender identity on their birth certificates. HB2 also sets a statewide definition of nondiscrimination that excludes gender identity and sexual orientation.

Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill into law in March, nine months after the NBA awarded the 2017 All-Star Weekend to Charlotte. The NBA immediately voiced concern, saying it opposes HB2 and finds it discriminatory toward the LGBT community.

Whitfield said Hornets officials have had “almost daily conversations with the NBA” to try to keep the game in Charlotte.

“While we recognize that the NBA cannot choose the law in every city, state, and country in which we do business, we do not believe we can successfully host our All-Star festivities in Charlotte in the climate created by HB2,” the NBA’s statement read.

The league did however, acknowledge that the NBA and the Hornets have been “working diligently to foster constructive dialogue and try to effect positive change.”

The league issued a statement Thursday saying the alternate site for 2017 will be named in the next few weeks. The NBA is focused on New Orleans, league sources told online site The Vertical.

McCrory and state legislators who support HB2 have said important privacy concerns are at stake. Following the NBA’s decision Thursday, McCrory continued to defend the law.

“American families should be on notice that the selective corporate elite are imposing their political will on communities in which they do business, thus bypassing the democratic and legal process,” the Republican governor said in an emailed statement.

A spokesman for Attorney General Roy Cooper, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, called the All-Star Game news “incredibly disappointing.”

“How many damaging blows does North Carolina have to take before Governor McCrory realizes that HB2 must be repealed?” the spokesman said.

Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts released a statement that said she is “deeply disappointed that the discriminatory actions reflected in HB2 have caused the NBA to move the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte. … Charlotte has shown its commitment to equal rights and inclusion and will continue to promote those values.” She encouraged the state to make the changes to HB2 that would bring the game to Charlotte in 2019.

The All-Star Weekend would have been the largest event in Charlotte since the Democratic National Convention in 2012. Tourism experts estimated the event could have had as much as $100 million in economic impact in the Charlotte region, with tens of thousands of out-of-town visitors filling hotel rooms and restaurants.

“We are particularly mindful of the impact of this decision on our fans in North Carolina, who are among the most passionate in our league,” the NBA’s statement read.

“It is also important to stress that the City of Charlotte and the Hornets organization have sought to provide an inclusive environment and that the Hornets will continue to ensure that all patrons – including members of the LGBT community – feel welcome while attending games and events in their arena.”

The options to make changes to the law dwindled when the General Assembly adjourned recently. While the legislature altered one aspect of the law, that wasn’t sufficient for the NBA.

McCrory earlier this week signed limited changes to HB2, restoring the right to sue for discrimination in state court. Still intact is a provision that requires people in public schools and government facilities to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificates.

Silver said at the conclusion of an owners meeting last week in Las Vegas that he was “disappointed” that state legislators didn’t take additional steps toward modifying the legislation before adjourning.

Earlier this month, the Department of Justice asked a federal judge to suspend HB2 pending the outcome of a trial. U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder could order a hearing on the case by the end of August, if not sooner.

Several major corporations, including Google, Reddit and PayPal, recently sent the NBA a letter urging Silver to move the All-Star Weekend out of Charlotte.

“If the NBA holds events in North Carolina while HB2 remains law, players, employees, and fans will be at risk of discrimination – and that’s wrong. It will also send a terrible message about who the NBA is and what it values as an organization, and set a dangerous precedent,” the letter reads.

Next February would have been the first time Charlotte hosted All-Star Weekend since 1991, the only time the event previously was here. The All-Star Game was scheduled to be held Feb. 17 at Time Warner Cable Arena.

“We all are disappointed. But if there’s a silver lining, it shows me what a close community we have in Charlotte. It showed me how many people were willing to roll their sleeves up at a very high level ... to help us do everything we could to retain the game in Charlotte,” Whitfield said.

The NBA’s decision raises questions about future sporting events in Charlotte. The NCAA, which has men’s basketball tournament games planned in North Carolina in 2017 and 2018, recently adopted an anti-discrimination requirement for sites bidding on NCAA events. The PGA Championship is scheduled to be at Quail Hollow Club in 2017.

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