NBA makes clear: We’re falling behind, North Carolina

The Observer editorial board

Adam Silver and Michael Jordan at last year’s All-Star Game announcment.
Adam Silver and Michael Jordan at last year’s All-Star Game announcment. AP

Let’s get one thing out of the way:

In crafting an expanded anti-discrimination ordinance back in February, the city of Charlotte did what more than 200 other U.S. cities and counties had already done – offer transgender individuals the freedom to use the bathroom with which they identity.

In crafting HB2 in response just weeks later, North Carolina lawmakers did what no other state had done – taking not only those protections away, but also any past and future protections offered to gays and lesbians.

The troubles that have come since, including the NBA’s announcement Thursday about its 2017 All-Star Game, did not begin with our city. They began when our state’s governor and legislature turned a common ordinance into an uncommon grab bag of discrimination.

But today isn’t about assigning blame for the loss of a premiere sports event and the tens of millions of dollars that would’ve come with it. Today is about understanding what comes next for our city and state.

The NBA, even as it delivered bad news, is offering North Carolina another chance. Charlotte can host the 2019 All-Star Game, the league said, but only if substantial changes to HB2 are made. We know now that’s not an empty threat.

It also signals a new normal for North Carolina. The NBA has given others a very public example to follow. Already, the PGA said Thursday that no new events will come to Charlotte if HB2 isn’t overturned. Expect the NCAA to follow suit when it picks sites for its basketball tournaments. The ACC might do the same with the football title game that Charlotte has hosted since 2010.

The NBA’s announcement also left a new, deeper dent on the N.C. brand. We’re now the state that actually lost an All-Star Game, and companies and athletes collectively shook their heads Thursday at what North Carolina has forced upon itself. As business recruiters have already said, progressive companies that rely on young talent notice these things.

All of which seems to mean little to N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory, who took a Trumpian posture Thursday, lashing out at the “sports and entertainment elite” and the liberal media – and even managing to bring Hillary Clinton into the discussion.

There’s likely some political calculation going on here. McCrory knows that the courts will eventually decide the issue of transgender access to bathrooms and locker rooms. If those rulings go against North Carolina’s stance on the issue, McCrory can bow to the courts, criticize liberal judges and encourage the repeal of HB2.

But if the courts rule only on bathrooms in schools and other public places for now, North Carolina could continue to keep the parts of HB2 that ban cities from requiring LGBT protections in businesses. The NBA, and others, will stay away.

It’s possible that McCrory really believes HB2 is about privacy and safety, although other states and other school districts with bathroom laws have clearly shown that no one is being threatened or forced to see other people’s genitalia.

But once again, as with same-sex marriage, our state is out of step with where the country is headed on discrimination. Just hours after McCrory lashed out at the “elite” on Thursday, his party’s presidential nominee spoke of protecting LGBTQ rights. The Republican convention crowd cheered.

We’re falling behind, North Carolina. It cost us deeply this week. It will continue to hurt us.

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