The NBA has, in recent years, been a league that’s been ahead of the curve when it comes to responding to discrimination.
When former Clippers owner Donald Sterling was taped uttering racist remarks, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned him from the league for life. It was the first of the four major professional sports leagues to have an openly gay player on one of its teams when Jason Collins played for the Brooklyn Nets in 2013. It also became the first league to have a full-time female coach when the San Antonio Spurs named Becky Hammon one of its assistant coaches in 2014.
So, while commendable, it wasn’t surprising when the NBA came out with a strong statement Thursday evening in the wake of North Carolina’s passing of a discriminatory law against the gay, lesbian and transgender communities, hinting that it could impact whether the league will allow Charlotte to host to the 2017 All-Star Game.
“The NBA is dedicated to creating an inclusive environment for all who attend our games and events,” the league said in the statement. “We are deeply concerned that this discriminatory law runs counter to our guiding principles of equality and mutual respect, and do not yet know what impact it will have on our ability to successfully host the 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte.”
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It was the right tone to take. Frankly, it was the only tone to take. But if nothing changes in North Carolina in the coming days and weeks, then simply saying that it’s unclear what impact this law will have on the All-Star Game won’t be enough for Silver and the rest of the NBA.
There would only be one right decision for the league to make: take the All-Star Game from Charlotte and hold it somewhere that isn’t establishing laws that discriminate against whole portions of the community.
Sure, there is plenty of planning that goes into hosting an event like this. But any additional headaches that would come with moving the game to some other locale would undoubtedly be worth being on the right side of history, and on the only correct side of this situation.
The beauty of sports is that it serves as an escape for all of us. Whether it’s the Super Bowl, March Madness or the NBA Finals, throwing ourselves into a sporting event can serve as a distraction from the daily stresses and frustrations that come from everyday life.
But, in situations like this, sports can also serve as something else: a powerful motivational tool. Last year, Indiana attempted to pass a similar law to the one North Carolina did this week. NCAA president Mark Emmert stood up and said that the organization’s offices - as well as its many conventions and meetings and all of its business – might have to move elsewhere if something wasn’t done about it.
In short order, Indiana’s state government reversed course.
Just last week, the NFL issued a statement saying that if Georgia’s governor signs into a law a “religious liberty” bill, Atlanta could see its bid to host either the 2019 or 2020 Super Bowl – the city is currently a finalist for both – be impacted by it.
In 2014, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer had a chance to sign a similar bill into law, and the NFL threatened to move that year’s Super Bowl. She vetoed it, and the game went on as scheduled.
In addition to the All-Star Game, North Carolina is currently slated to host NCAA tournament games in 2017 (Greensboro) and 2018 (Charlotte), and the PGA Championship is scheduled to go to Quail Hollow Golf Club in Charlotte in 2017, as well. It would stand to reason that, if nothing changes, all those events could potentially change venues.
But arguably no league needs to take a stand on this more than the NBA. When Collins made his debut with the Nets in Feb. 2013, Silver told me he was conflicted about the celebration around the fact it was finally happening.
“I have mixed feelings, because I’m enormously proud that the first openly gay player is playing in the NBA,” Silver said. “On the other hand, this is so long overdue that I don’t think this should necessarily be on the list of the greatest accomplishments of the NBA.
“This is an area where no one in sports should be too proud. Sports has led society in so many critical areas this is one where we fell behind.”
The fact the NBA has stood firmly behind people from all walks of life has been something for the league to be proud of. But if nothing changes in North Carolina and the All-Star Game remains in Charlotte, much of that good work will instantly be washed away.
Silver was right; in so many areas, sports has led our society to better places. That’s why he and the NBA will only have one choice if North Carolina sticks to its guns: take the All-Star Game elsewhere.