- The NBA All-Star Game will return to Charlotte in 2019, a decision that indirectly endorses North Carolina's sham HB2 repeal.
Back in July of 2016, the NBA dealt one of the biggest blows to the state of North Carolina’s anti-LGBT House Bill 2 by announcing that it would be pulling the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte. “We do not believe we can successfully host our All-Star festivities in Charlotte in the climate caused by HB2,” the league said in a statement. But with that withdrawal came an understanding: If North Carolina were to repeal and replace HB2, then the All-Star Game would return. “We’ve been assured if the HB2 situation is resolved, we’ll be hosting [the game],” Charlotte Hornets team president Fred Whitfield told the Charlotte Observer.
Nearly a year after the NBA walked away from North Carolina (with the 2017 All-Star Game eventually moving to New Orleans) amid similar boycotts from the NCAA and a number of companies and performing artists, the state legislature and Governor Roy Cooper walked back HB2, striking the law from the books back in March. And as promised, the NBA kept up its end of the bargain, announcing on Wednesday morning that the league’s 2019 All-Star Game would take place in Charlotte. But in returning the All-Star Game to Charlotte, NBA commissioner Adam Silver (a Duke alum) and the NBA have given weight to a replacement bill just as cruel and restrictive as its predecessor and struck a compromise that turns its back on the LGBT community.
The bathroom portion of HB2 was what drew the news and drove the protest, thanks to a measure that essentially barred transgender individuals from using the bathrooms or locker rooms of their identified gender in schools or government buildings. That ban was the result of the nonsense idea that men would pose as trans in order to go into women’s bathrooms, one that has been repeatedly debunked. But beyond that, the bill also overturned all city and county ordinances designed to protect LGBT individuals and banned them from enacting new ones, leaving it in the hands of the state legislature to create laws to do so—which the Republican-controlled government never would.
With the state battered by boycotts—Wired estimated back in September that North Carolina had lost $395 million in business since the bill was made law—and McCrory losing his reelection campaign, a repeal and a replacement bill (HB142) were quickly put together by Cooper and the North Carolina GOP. But while HB142 prohibits any bathroom regulations, it also prevents local governments or schools from creating any ordinance to protect transgender bathroom rights without the approval of the state legislature, which is still controlled by Republicans. On top of that, HB142 banned city and county governments from passing any kind of nondiscrimination ordinance until Dec. 1, 2020—a moratorium that can be extended whenever the state legislature wants.
HB142 is, in other words, a sham repeal—one that fixes nothing and extends zero protections to the state’s LGBT population. The ACLU blasted HB142 as a “disgraceful backroom deal that uses the rights of LGBT people as a bargaining chip,” and the Human Rights Campaign accused “each and every lawmaker who supported this bill [of] betray[ing] the LGBTQ community.” Numerous publications also came out against HB142: The New York Times editorial board labeled it a “bait-and-switch,” and Slate called it “an unmitigated disaster for LGBTQ rights.” And even the Charlotte Observer said it "does not do one thing to protect the LBGT community."
But the NBA and NCAA are moving forward. In April, the NCAA announced that it was “reluctantly” ending its ban on the state hosting tournament games; two weeks later, it awarded first- and second-round games to Charlotte in 2018, as well as first-round games to Greensboro in ’20 and Raleigh in ’21. Now, the NBA has followed suit. “While we understand the concerns of those who say the repeal of HB2 did not go far enough, we believe the recent legislation eliminates the most egregious aspects of the prior law,” Silver said in the league’s statement.
Silver’s words suggest that the NBA doesn’t have a full grasp on exactly what the new bill means; if anything, discrimination is now effectively on the books in North Carolina thanks to HB142. That’s the charitable read of the situation, anyway. The more cynical view is that the NBA was comfortable with any bill that wasn’t obviously discriminatory—one without the horrible optics of a measure literally stopping people from using the bathroom of their choice.
However you look at it, it’s a strange misstep for a league that has been at the forefront of social issues since Silver took over as commissioner in 2014, from the North Carolina boycott to the ousting of Donald Sterling as Clippers owner over his racist remarks. In Silver’s NBA, stars and coaches have been free to express their opinions on any number of social issues, thanks in large part to his tacit approval. But by putting the All-Star Game back in North Carolina, Silver has undercut his own league’s message of inclusion. Supporting HB142 is supporting the North Carolina GOP’s latest successful attempt to make sure LGBT people have no protections in the state. Worse, it sends the message that the new bill actually is a solution to instead of a continuation of the same discrimination, now that it has the backing of one of the biggest institutions that protested HB2 in the first place.
The NBA can’t enact the laws it wants, and the biggest blame for HB142 falls on the North Carolina state government, particularly Gov. Cooper, who bent under the pressure to get rid of HB2 and end the boycotts no matter what shape the new bill took. But the league isn’t helping matters by accepting a horrible half-measure and declaring it a step forward so it can get back to business as usual. The state of North Carolina presented the NBA with a brand new bridge, and the league was apparently all too ready to ignore what it was made of—and who it left behind—in order to walk across it.