By Greg Melo
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The elephant in the room during All-Star weekend was the “bumps in the road” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged during his annual news conference: North Carolina’s recent history regarding LGBTQ rights and its impact on staging the event.
The heart of Silver’s opening statement detailed what it took for the NBA to feel comfortable hosting its showcase event in Charlotte two years after it was originally scheduled to be here. After Charlotte had been awarded the 2017 All-Star game, the North Carolina state legislature passed a bill known as HB2, which, among other things, required that citizens go to the bathroom of their assigned birth sex. The legislation created a sense of panic in the LGBTQ community and in 2016 the NBA switched the site of the 2017 All-Star game to New Orleans. The so-called “Bathroom Bill” was eventually repealed, thanks in part to the pressure put on North Carolina by corporate entities like the NBA, NCAA, and PayPal. Silver credited the efforts of Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan and team president Fred Whitfield as well.
“They began an effort working with the city and the state to repeal that law, and ultimately, I’d say, in true North Carolina fashion, people came together and ultimately did change that law,” Silver said.
In 2017 the NBA announced that Charlotte would host the 2019 All-Star game, even though critics said that HB2’s replacement, known as HB142, still leaves regulation of bathroom access solely in control of the state’s legislature. Additionally, local governments cannot pass their own nondiscrimination ordinances or protection laws until 2020.
“For many people, [the repeal] didn’t go far enough, and I’m sympathetic to those who feel that there are still not appropriate protections for the LGBTQ community,” Silver said. “but I also felt from a league standpoint it was important, and as part of our core values, to work with people and ultimately to move forward with the community.”
Silver mentioned the progress that has been made regarding the roles of women in the league, and he said gender inclusivity is a key value in the league.
“I think another area where there’s been key enormous progress in sports is around issues of gender, and I think now in the league it’s been a real focus of ours, where we have more women who are serving as officials, more women who are working in a capacity as scouts or assistant coaches and in the front office,” Silver said. “And I think there’s an opportunity, once again, when it comes to the issue of gender identity, for the league to play a role in bringing people together and demonstrating through our own actions why principles, like tolerance, inclusion, and equality, are critically important to how we operate as a sport and how we should live as a society.”
The NBA has a role to play in gender inclusivity and identity, and this was the battleground for the league to take up a stronger stance on a familiar societal battleground. In an interview prior to All-Star weekend, Mariah Emerson, Manager of Affairs and External Communications to the LGBT Center on Halsted in Chicago and a leader in the LGBT community said that the NBA’s two-year delay of the event did not go far enough to address inclusion.
“It’s a start,” Emerson said. “I can’t necessarily say all of the NBA is trying hard. I can say that we’re starting to make strides. I think that it’s important to focus on the process sometimes. You look at where we’ve been and you look at where we’re going, and there’s an in-between.”
The league has taken some strides to promote gender inclusivity and equality and has hosted Pride Nights over the course of the regular season. Silver concluded his opening statement by saying that the league will continue to take steps in creating a safe space for all of its fans.
“I think there’s an opportunity, once again, when it comes to the issue of gender identity, for the league to play a role in bringing people together and demonstrating through our own actions why principles, like tolerance, inclusion, and equality, are critically important to how we operate as a sport and how we should live as a society.”