Adam Silver speaks softly, resembles a cerebral college professor and carries a big stick. On Thursday, the NBA commissioner threw down the hammer heard around the league, around the country, around the world. Economically. Politically. Socially. Emotionally. The decision to move the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte had been vetted by attorneys, evaluated by economists, debated in the hallways of Olympic Tower and, ultimately, became the source of sleepless nights.
But this was from the heart, from the gut, from the conscience.
This is the NBA. This is no surprise.
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The league that prides itself on being the most progressive in professional major sports – the league that first roomed blacks with whites, introduced female referees and assistant coaches, and hired the first of many black head coaches and an openly gay CEO with the Golden State Warriors – stepped into another minefield with a powerful statement opposing a North Carolina bill that limits anti-discrimination protections within the state.
Specifically, House Bill 2, known as the bathroom bill, reverses a Charlotte ordinance that would have allowed gays and transgender individuals to use bathrooms based on their gender identification. Common sense, right? Or let us use an even simpler analogy: the overwhelming number of unisex bathrooms located throughout Europe.
See? Not so complicated.
“Since March, when North Carolina enacted HB2 and the issue of legal protections for the LGBT community in Charlotte became prominent, the NBA and the Charlotte Hornets have been working diligently to foster constructive dialogue and try to effect positive change,” Silver said Thursday in a statement. “We have been guided in these discussions by the long-standing core values of our league. 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.”
Voices inside and outside the realm of sports will resonate for days, perhaps even months, with other entertainers surely joining an exit list that already includes Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Nick Jonas and now the NBA. Earlier on Thursday, longtime Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, preparing Team USA for the upcoming Rio Olympics, offered a terse, “It’s an embarrassing bill. That’s all I’m going to say about it.”
Silver’s plans to relocate the festivities appeared inevitable when he addressed the media following the board of governors meeting last week in Las Vegas. Visibly moved as he discussed the matter, thoughtfully and deliberately, he went so far as to ponder other possible NBA sites, all within states that do not have discriminatory laws similar to those in North Carolina.
New Orleans, Chicago, New York and Brooklyn have been cited as possibilities. Sacramento, alas, has not. While the Kings compete in one of the most diverse communities in the country and are moving into Golden 1 Center in October, one high-ranking league executive told The Bee that the inadequate number of hotel rooms remains the major obstacle to hosting the All-Star festivities. Yet the source also suggested that, in the not-too-distant future, the league planned to study creative alternatives, say, a possible partnership with Airbnb – the online venue that allows people to rent homes and apartments around the country.
The fact that Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive was among the loudest voices advocating the ousting of former Clippers owner Donald Sterling, whose racist comments infuriated many within the league three years ago and led to a threatened player boycott, is not irrelevant, either.
“The NBA has long stood for inclusion and respect, and the Sacramento Kings are proud to be a part of that legacy,” Ranadive said in a statement. “On and off the court, we have a diverse team, representing different countries, races, religions, ages and sexual orientations. … We applaud and support the NBA’s decision to ensure that all members of the NBA family, our fans and our partners are able to attend and enjoy the All-Star Game in a state where they feel welcome and safe. We enthusiastically support Commissioner Silver, and we are proud to play in a league that is a leader in promoting the importance of diversity and equality.”
Regardless of where the game is played, the damage to North Carolina already is significant. Along with the hit to the state’s image, the weeklong activities were expected to generate an estimated $100 million for the local economy.
Interestingly, there also is a slice of painful, historic irony here, sort of a threatened partnership between the blue league and a red-state governor: When the expansion Charlotte Hornets relocated to New Orleans in 2002 after years of opposition from the league, then-mayor Pat McCrory immediately led a delegation of business and political leaders to New York to discuss the possibility of an expansion franchise with then-Commissioner David Stern.
Furious at former Hornets George Shinn for stripping a thriving, once-rabid fan base of its team, and receptive to a strong pitch from members of the aggrieved community, Stern urged his owners to grant Charlotte another franchise. In 2004, the team was born and named the Bobcats.
Male or female? Funny, but gender was never an issue. Yet here it is, 2016. Stern is retired. McCrory, the former mayor, is the governor who signed the bill that cost Charlotte is first All-Star Game since 1991. Silver is taking up the fight for his league, which as history suggests, is as it should be. Besides playing games, the NBA almost always steps to the front.