The NBA made a clear political statement in late March when it released a statement expressing concerns about Charlotte's ability to host the 2016 All-Star Game following the North Carolina legislature's passage of a discriminatory state-wide bill that has been described as the most comprehensive anti-LGBT law in the United States. The league did not join other corporations in taking immediate steps to extricate itself from the state — largely because it's not feasible (or desired) for the Charlotte Hornets to move — but the release was interpreted by most as a barely-veiled threat that the Hornets and state would lose a marquee event meant to showcase the franchise and region.
However, Silver appeared to adopt a more conciliatory tone last Friday when he referred to the law as "problematic" and viewed his role less as a social justice warrior businessman than as a concerned party ready to negotiate to reach a desired conclusion.
Silver spoke on the issue again Thursday and made sure not to mince words. The league's terms are simple — if the law is not overturned, Charlotte will not host the All-Star Game in February 2017. From Brian Mahoney for the Associated Press:
''The sense was that if the NBA could give us some time, they in the community of North Carolina were optimistic they would see a change in the law. They weren't guaranteeing it and I think which was why my response was the event still is 10 months from now, we don't need to make a decision yet,'' Silver said Thursday during a meeting of Associated Press Sports Editors.
''We've been, I think, crystal clear that we believe a change in the law is necessary for us to play in the kind of environment that we think is appropriate for a celebratory NBA event, but that we did have some time and that if the view of the people who were allied with us in terms of a change, if their view, the people on the ground in North Carolina, was that the situation would best be served by us not setting a deadline, we would not set a deadline at this time.''
The North Carolina law directs transgender people to use public toilets corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificate. The law also excludes LGBT people from state anti-discrimination protections, blocks local governments from expanding LGBT protections, and bars all types of workplace discrimination lawsuits from state courts. [...]
All-Star weekend is scheduled for February. Silver said there is no urgency to make a decision because the league could very easily find out which arenas would take on the event if necessary.
Silver's clarification is useful, because it solidifies some of the vague language of earlier statements without removing the NBA from its position as a negotiator in North Carolina. He makes the stakes of the situation clear but also doesn't act so stridently as to offend the people he's trying to convince. At the same time, Silver has also signaled to the league's relatively progressive fan base that the NBA stands for their values. It's a lesson in how to make your position clear while keeping a dialogue open.
To be clear, the NBA needs to be careful with this issue for reasons apart from politics. The largely unspoken issue of this conversation and negotiation is that the Hornets will keep playing in Charlotte whether or not they host the All-Star Game in February. One of the NBA's 30 franchises will be greatly affected by the outcome of this situation. For that matter, it's a team owned by Michael Jordan, still the most popular basketball player in the world. The Hornets will need to remain a viable organization over the long term. Silver doesn't only want Charlotte to keep the All-Star Game — he wants the city to do so in a way that does not alienate state government or portions of the fan base.
It's difficult to know how long the law would have to stand for the NBA to set a concrete deadline, but it's safe to say the league would try to wait until the last possible moment to do so. Silver holds plenty of leverage, but using it all could put the Hornets into a difficult position that no one involved wants them to face.
- - - - - - -