Last week, the National Basketball League (NBA) said it would move the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, North Carolina. In what many hailed as a victory for progress, the decision centers around the state’s passage of House Bill (H.B.) 2.
Signed by Gov. Pat McCrory on March 23 after a special session in the North Carolina legislature, the law eliminated any anti-discrimination protection for LGBT citizens within the Tar Heel State. The legislation came after the city of Charlotte passed an ordinance that prohibited any discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity.
Described as a “common sense” law by Gov. McCrory and other North Carolina political leaders, the “school bathrooms” law immediately caused a political firestorm across the state and the U.S. The law also helped focus attention on what the transgender community says is a constant struggle to gain acceptance and equality across the country.
Business leaders said the law could cost the state millions, if not billions, in economic losses, while organizations including the Human Rights Campaign launched a public relations onslaught to pick apart McCrory’s arguments supporting H.B. 2. Companies including PayPal and Deutsche Bank have since canceled plans to expand their operations within North Carolina.
Meanwhile, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver warned North Carolina earlier this month that the All-Star Game could be moved if the state did not rewrite or completely overturn the law. But McCrory and the N.C. legislature would not budge, and Silver made good on his promise to relocate the event.
Many sports personalities, including Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and former NBA star Charles Barkley, criticized the state’s political leaders for what they called an “embarrassing” and discriminatory law.
The NBA’s decision to move next year’s All-Star Game to another city risks fraying the already tenuous relationship the NBA has with Charlotte. The first team to play in the NBA, the Hornets, left the city for New Orleans in 2002 after its owner was mired in a series of sordid sex scandals. A second team, the Bobcats, emerged in 2004, but that team had a hard time gaining the affection of the local community until NBA legend Michael Jordan acquired the team several years later and arranged to have it rechristened as the Hornets once again.
But the fact that the NBA is taking the long view, instead of worrying about the fan base of one city, makes the league a hero to many citizens. As Katy Steinmetz, San Francisco bureau chief for Time magazine, pointed out on Sunday: The NBA has taken a far more progressive stance on a bevy of issues than its competitors in American big-league sports. The National Football League, for example, has been sidetracked by controversies related to domestic violence and a concussion problem that it treated more as an annoyance than a concern. Do not be surprised if the NBA surpasses the NFL as the most popular sports league in a few years; and if it does, its message of inclusion and acceptance of diversity will be a leading factor.
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