The NBA spent the last several months making direct threats to North Carolina legislators insisting it would move the 2017 All-Star Game—and the $100 million in local business that would come with it—if the state didn’t change HB2, a bill that would allow transgender North Carolinians to use the bathroom.
In April, the league gave the state 30 days to change the bill. It never did, assuming the league would never call its bluff and eat a large sum of cash.
Well, on Thursday, Commissioner Adam Silver did just that. He called its bluff. There will be no All-Star Game in Charlotte because the state legislature decided not allowing transgender North Carolinians to use the bathroom was more important than $100 million, and because Adam Silver has guts and a conscience.
There’s no other explanation. The NBA just lost a bunch of money. North Carolina lost a ton more of it, and its tourism board now has the task of convincing visitors that the state isn’t run by bigots who don’t want their cash.
Other American sports leagues will stand firmly behind whichever politically advantageous cause will make them the most money.
If that’s what the NBA is trying to pull right now, it’s not doing a very good job at it. It’s just doing a good job of standing up for a tiny portion of its audience—transgender people who might need to go to the bathroom at one of their games, but can’t because of a discriminatory law.
Moving the All-Star Game cost the league real money. Estimates from the city of Charlotte itself say the lease of Time Warner Cable Arena for the weekend cost $1.6 million alone, plus another million for the use of the Charlotte Convention Center over the weekend. The city paid out $750,000 to the NBA for a hosting fee, which it will now presumably get back.
The NBA elevated the league and its standing in a future American society over a few million dollars on Thursday. Would any other major professional sports league do that?
The NFL, for one, feigns support for rote, unobjectionable political causes that have no chance at negatively impacting its bottom line, but scoffs at anything that could cost it cash.
You might remember those pink NFL armbands that support breast cancer awareness. In 2013, ESPN’s Darren Rovell revealed that only $11.25 of every $100 spent on the corresponding pink NFL merchandise sold in stores went to a cancer charity.
Those field-length American flag shows and Sam the Eagle-style military tributes before Thanksgiving Day games? Those were initially paid for by the military—about three-quarters of a million dollars’ worth—until the league got caught accepting money from the Pentagon and gave it all back.
Last year, when Cam Hayward wanted to pay tribute to his father, who had died the week before, by writing his dad’s nickname on his eyeblack, the league fined him $11,576 for a uniform violation.
And the same week Roger Goodell successfully won powers to levy fines and suspensions like that unilaterally in a federal case over underinflated footballs, Adam Silver was the first commissioner of a major American sports league to march in New York City’s Gay Pride Parade.
Now Silver has some carnage to clean up. The Charlotte Hornets have struggled with attendance since their inception. After years of sagging attendance, a Charlotte NBA franchise already bolted in 2002 to New Orleans, where the 2017 All-Star Game is fittingly likely headed. This won’t help any of that, and it might even throw the league and team into an adversarial relationship with the city.
Threats by other leagues to take their multimillion-dollar balls and go to a state where prejudice isn’t written into the law—those previously went unheeded. Charlotte is now $100 million poorer because its state government didn’t want some basketball fans to use a public bathroom.
Those threats won’t go unheeded anymore.