Basketball

Ex-N.C. governor blasts Adam Silver, NBA as hypocrites in approach to HB2 vs. China

Former N.C. Governor Pat McCrory, left, thanks NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, center, during a press conference announcing the NBA would hold its All-Star Game in Charlotte in 2017. The NBA later pulled the All-Star Game out of Charlotte until 2019 because of national backlash surrounding HB2.
Former N.C. Governor Pat McCrory, left, thanks NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, center, during a press conference announcing the NBA would hold its All-Star Game in Charlotte in 2017. The NBA later pulled the All-Star Game out of Charlotte until 2019 because of national backlash surrounding HB2. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

Former N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory calls the NBA hypocritical in how it’s dealing with the demonstrations in Hong Kong vs. how it treated Charlotte and the state in 2016 during the controversy over HB2.

The NBA chose to move the 2017 All-Star Weekend out of Charlotte in response to a law the league and many others viewed as discriminatory to the LGBTQ community. After the state rescinded House Bill 2 in March 2017, the NBA awarded the 2019 All-Star Weekend to Charlotte.

The NBA is now dealing with retaliation from China over a Friday tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey supporting pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The Rockets distanced the franchise from Morey’s opinion. But that didn’t stop Chinese officials from enacting sanctions such as discontinuing NBA merchandise sales and canceling game telecasts.

The NBA has twice issued statements looking to strike a balance between apologizing for what was perceived as an insult by Chinese officials and businesses, while defending free expression.

McCrory told the Observer on Tuesday the NBA sought no such middle ground over HB2, which he and other Republicans saw as a sensible law to protect safety in bathrooms and other public facilities.

“I see hypocrisy,” said McCrory, who was Charlotte’s mayor from 1995 to 2009. “They wanted to involve themselves with North Carolina commerce and an election, while not setting the same standard for China.

“I called them out then (when the All-Star Game was moved), and it’s still true now.”

The NBA did not provide a comment Tuesday afternoon regarding McCrory’s remarks. When it moved the 2017 event, the NBA issued a statement saying that while it can’t choose laws for the cities where it does business, it couldn’t successfully host the All-Star festivities in the “climate created by HB2.”

The law, also known as the “bathroom bill,” brought national condemnation to North Carolina. HB2 negated a Charlotte ordinance that would have required businesses such as restaurants and bars to allow access to their bathrooms based on individuals’ gender identity and would have nullified or blocked other local ordinances expanding LGBTQ protections.

Entertainers and other groups canceled conventions, concerts and moved athletic events out of the state, including the ACC Football Championship held in Charlotte. Several companies announced they were delaying or dropping plans for expansions or relocations to North Carolina.

The overall economic losses tied to HB2 were estimated at close to $4 billion, a figure that is still disputed by supporters of the original bill.

Now, the NBA finds itself once again enmeshed in a rancorous, off-the-court dispute, this time with China, its largest emerging international market, all stemming from Morey’s tweet in support of Hong Kong.

Commissioner Adam Silver’s statement Tuesday morning expressed the NBA’s “great affinity for the people of China” and noted the difference in U.S. and Chinese “political systems and beliefs.”

Silver’s statement said the NBA will maintain “values of equality, respect and freedom of expression.” The statement also said it’s not the NBA’s role to “adjudicate” differences of opinion, and will not regulate what players, team employees and team owners say publicly.

McCrory said he believes the NBA’s strong reaction to HB2 in 2016 wasn’t fueled by principal, but instead about protecting business relationships.

“They were losing some sponsorships (if All-Star Weekend was held in North Carolina then); they told me that flat-out on the phone,” said McCrory, who was governor from 2013 through 2017.

In contrast, McCrory believes, the NBA is being tepid in dealing with China because the league has so much to lose financially.

“They got heavily involved with our community and elections (Republican McCrory lost a re-election bid to Democrat Roy Cooper in 2016), while ignoring China,” McCrory said.

During the NBA boycott of Charlotte over HB2, McCrory said he pointed out to Silver that the league failed to sanction China over its authoritarian rule.

“I told the commissioner they’ve got a lot of business in China,” McCrory said. “But they’ve got a lot of sponsors there, and that would cost them hundreds of millions.”

Basketball is widely popular in China and the NBA has marketed there aggressively to an emerging middle-class in the world’s second-largest economy. The sport’s popularity in China was powered by former Rockets center Yao Ming, who is now chairman of the Chinese Basketball Association.

Yao is among the many Chinese angered over Morey’s tweet, to the extent Silver plans to meet with him looking to smooth over the situation.

The NBA annually holds preseason games in China, and the sport’s World Cup competition was held there this summer. The Charlotte Hornets played two exhibitions in Shenzhen and Shanghai in the fall of 2015.

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