Back in April, an Internet hoax about the National Basketball Association (NBA) canceling the Charlotte, North Carolina 2017 NBA All-Star Game over the state’s controversial and discriminatory LGBT law, HB2, made the rounds. Today, however, the NBA took a stand and uprooted the game, a big-time money-maker for cities who host, from the home of the Charlotte Hornets, owned by NBA legend Michael Jordan.
The league, in a statement, said; "Our week-long schedule of All-Star events and activities is intended to be a global celebration of basketball, our league, and the values for which we stand, and to bring together all members of the NBA community -- current and former players, league and team officials, business partners, and fans. 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.”
The Vertical reported that the front-runner for the 2017 game is New Orleans. Sources also told ESPN that Chicago and New York/Brooklyn could be part of the mix. Charlotte could be awarded the game in 2019.
Jordan, in a statement, said; “We understand the NBA’s decision and the challenges around holding the NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte this season. There was an exhaustive effort from all parties to keep the event in Charlotte, and we are disappointed we were unable to do so. With that said, we are pleased that the NBA opened the door for Charlotte to host All-Star weekend again as soon as an opportunity was available in 2019.”
HB2 has had a negative effect — not just for this game, which could have netted the city and region around $100m, according to the Charlotte Observer — but on the overall business climate. PayPal, for example, stopped expansion plans in the state over the law and a raft of prominent CEOs from major global companies have expressed their views, indicating that the North Carolina climate of discrimination would make it impossible for them to consider investment.
The reaction to the decision has been swift and, for the most part, positive.
“The NBA's decision to move the 2017 All-Star Game is groundbreaking and sets an example for every other sporting body to follow,” said Athlete Ally’s founder and executive director, Hudson Taylor. “If athletic communities believe in the principles of respect and equal treatment for their LGBT fans, then All-Star games and championship events should only be awarded to those states and cities that reflect those values.”
Legendary San Antonio Spurs head coach, Gregg Popovich echoed the sentiment, according to Jeff Zillgitt, USA Today NBA reporter, saying, “I agree with the league and Bruce Springsteen and everybody else who pulled out” (Zillgitt has a very good list of responses, both good and bad, on his Twitter feed).
As expected, North Carolina governor Pat McCrory led the chorus of dissenters blaming “The sports and entertainment elite, (North Carolina) Attorney General Roy Cooper and the liberal media” for the decision.
Brands began to weigh in as well, with Nike, long a supporter of LGBT issues, telling Slam, "Nike supports the NBA’s decision to stand up for equal rights for the LGBT community by moving the location of the All Star Game. We stand against discrimination of any kind and believe this decision sends a strong message of inclusion and respect for diversity.”
Brian Ellner, general manager of corporate and public affairs for Edelman in New York, sees this as a rousing victory and an important moment for both sports leagues and brands.
“I do believe that this is one of the most significant acts of corporate allyship we’ve ever seen,” said Ellner.
For its part, the NBA has long been in the vanguard of social issues, including a 2015 Christmas holiday campaign that addressed gun violence in the US. Even outside official NBA channels, the league and commissioner Adam Silver have given players latitude to take stands on social issues without consequence, most notably in 2014 when Lebron James wore an “I can’t breathe” t-shirt in warmups as a message to the family of Eric Garner, an African American man who died after being in a chokehold by police in New York.
“I think the NBA has been incredibly socially responsible, for a very long time. We see it through NBA Cares and obviously through the fact that they have taken stands on some of the more important issues of our time.”
Ellner, who led the winning campaign for marriage equality in New York and created New Yorkers for Marriage Equality noted that this is likely the first major action like this in sports, though there has been pressure on brands in the past. Prior to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, the Russian government passed an anti-LGBT rights law that put brands under the spotlight, especially Coca-Cola, who bore the brunt of criticism.
However, the 2014 Russian games seem light years away in terms of the expectations for brands, which has continually changed, especially among younger people who continue to have evolved views on equality.
“There is enormous support for fairness, irrespective of political party,” said Ellner, “And it is, without question for this generation, one of the civil rights issue of its time. It’s a smart move and the NBA is doing the right thing and they stepped up in a big way. You can't reward discrimination, I think is the big lesson here. My hope is that North Carolina and other states that are contemplating anti LGBT or other forms of discrimination will think long and hard before moving forward.”