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NBA’s Silver won’t draw ‘line in sand’ over HB2, All-Star Game in Charlotte

NBA commissioner Adam Silver on HB2

NBA commissioner Adam Silver on next steps regarding the All-Star Game and North Carolina's House Bill 2.
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NBA commissioner Adam Silver on next steps regarding the All-Star Game and North Carolina's House Bill 2.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday that no deadline has been set on whether the league will move the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte if House Bill 2 is not changed.

“There is no line in the sand. We intentionally didn’t want to draw lines in the sand,” said Silver, adding that he has been in North Carolina in the past three weeks, working to encourage a compromise between the legislature and Charlotte’s City Council.

“I spoke to a lot of business leaders in Charlotte who are working behind the scenes to craft some sort of compromise with the governmental leaders, both in the city and the state,” Silver said during his state-of-the-league news conference before Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

“I think both sides of the issue realize, no matter how heartfelt their views are, that the current state-of-being is causing enormous economic damage to the state,” Silver said.

Silver said the league would “very much like to play” the 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte, and also wants to make sure the LGBT community in North Carolina is protected.

“There is absolutely strong interest in working something out,” Silver said.

Having said that, Silver later acknowledged that the league has begun investigating alternative cities that might be able to step in as host for the four-day event next February. Silver said the issue would have to be resolved this summer to give Charlotte or a new city even minimal time to ramp up as host.

“I don’t see us getting past this summer without knowing definitely where we stand,” Silver said.

Silver drew a line of separation between the so-called bathroom provisions in HB2 and other aspects of the law. Under the ordinance the Charlotte City Council passed, transgender people could choose the restroom that matches their gender identity in places of public accommodation. HB2 requires that in government buildings, transgender people use the restroom associated with the gender listed on their birth certificates.

“The bathroom issue has become a little bit of a distraction,” Silver said. “From the very beginning, that was not the core issue (in the NBA’s uneasiness). It was protection for the LGBT community in terms of economic rights, personal rights.”

Silver said if those rights issues can be addressed to ensure “basic protections” for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, “we absolutely will see you in Charlotte next February.”

John Vrooman, a sports economics professor at Vanderbilt University, said the NBA’s position on HB2 would be more significant if the league were to act sooner rather than later on the All-Star Game.

“The more the NBA monopoly cartel backslides and delays drawing a line in the sand against reactionary exclusion, the less credible the economic boycott threat becomes,” Vrooman said.

Silver has said multiple times over the past three months that the NBA is uneasy with the law commonly known as HB2 and that it could affect the site of the 2017 All-Star Game.

“We’ve been, I think, crystal clear a change in the law is necessary for us to play in the kind of environment that we think is appropriate for a celebratory NBA event,” Silver said in April while meeting with The Associated Press Sports Editors group.

Before the NBA awarded the All-Star Weekend to Charlotte, the city agreed to spend $33.5 million on arena improvements, which includes $27.5 million in capital improvements and 10 years’ worth of annual payments of $600,000 for ongoing maintenance. While the NBA saw those improvements as key to any All-Star bid, they weren’t directly tied to the game.

The NBA awarded Charlotte the All-Star Weekend in June of 2015 in a news conference that included Silver, Hornets owner Michael Jordan and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory. McCrory later signed HB2 into law on March 23.

Along with the bathroom provision, HB2 struck down Charlotte’s nondiscrimination ordinance that made sexual orientation and gender identity protected categories citywide. HB2 also blocks a path that North Carolinians had to file discrimination claims in state court. That leaves the more expensive and time-sensitive federal court process as the main route for North Carolinians bringing age, gender and discrimination claims.

Last month, McCrory and state officials filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice after federal officials asked the state to renounce HB2. In response, the Justice Department filed its own lawsuit, seeking an injunction to suspend the law while a judge determines whether it is legal.

The state legislature and Charlotte’s City Council remain at an impasse. The council decided last month not to hold a vote to rescind its ordinance as a step toward the state amending HB2.

Since the measure went into law, Charlotte and other North Carolina cities have lost some convention business. In addition, several musicians, including Bruce Springsteen and Itzhak Perlman, chose to cancel concerts within the state. PayPal dropped plans for a Charlotte expansion that would have created up to 500 jobs. Deutsche Bank dropped plans for an expansion that would have brought 250 jobs to Cary.

The Hornets joined the NBA in expressing concern with HB2, which Silver in April called “problematic” in its current state. In a statement last month to the Observer, Jordan said the team opposes “discrimination in any form.”

‘Economically retrogressive’

The 2017 All-Star Weekend could have a total economic impact of up to $100 million, the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority says, citing economic impact studies of past NBA All-Star games. Since most fans and sponsors attending the events are from out of town, uptown hotels and restaurants are filled for a four-night span in mid-February.

This would be the first time Charlotte has hosted the All-Star Game in 26 years. It’s expected to draw more visitors than any event since the Democratic National Convention.

Experts say the possible loss of the game could be problematic for future events in North Carolina.

“The singular loss of the NBA All-Star game in itself will probably be more symbolic than real for Charlotte, but the more tangible mega-damage to the reputation and future of all of Carolina will be economically retrogressive,” Vanderbilt’s Vrooman said.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

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