Nearly a month after the NBA announced that it would move the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte, N.C., in the wake of the state’s anti-LGBT law, league leadership announced today that the game will take place in New Orleans.
CNN reports that the February 19 game will be played in New Orleans's Smoothie King Center, marking the third time the Big Easy has hosted the All-Star Game.
"New Orleans is a world-class destination for sports and entertainment and we are very appreciative that the city is once again hosting our All-Star festivities," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement today. "We are grateful to Tom and Gayle Benson and the Pelicans organization and to Governor John Bel Edwards, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation for inviting us back for what promises to be another exciting and memorable celebration of the game."
The news comes as tens of thousands of Louisiana residents work to rebuild after historic flooding that has destroyed an estimated 40,000 homes in the southern part of the state, killed at least 13 people, and prompted more than 86,000 to seek federal disaster assistance. The NBA and its National Basketball Players Association have promised to contribute financially to the recovery effort, in addition to volunteering time and resources during the weeks leading up to the game.
“Even in the midst of a historic crisis, I am excited that the NBA has recognized how great the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana are," Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a Friday statement. "In Louisiana, one of the strongest bonds that unites all of us is our passion for sports. Not only will NBA fans be able to participate in the All-Star Game events, they will also be a part of our world-famous Mardi Gras festivities. The fan experience can't get any better than that.”
While an estimated 20 parishes in south-central Louisiana (mostly near Baton Rouge) have been declared federal disaster areas due to substantial flood damage, most of New Orleans has remained dry, several media outlets have reported. Nevertheless, hometown teams including the NBA's Pelicans and the NFL's New Orleans Saints have also pledged resources and assistance in the recovery effort.
In mid-July, the NBA announced that it was looking for a new venue to host the star-studded game, since North Carolina leadership had declined to repeal or amend the state's House Bill 2, which, among other things, makes it illegal for transgender people in the state to use the bathrooms (in public and government buildings) that correspond with their gender identity.
In the wake of that announcement, several southern cities began vying to host the game, which is expected to bring with it a substantial economic boost through tourism, sponsorships, and public service projects surrounding the game.
Louisiana Gov. Edwards, a Democrat, drafted a letter to the NBA commissioner late last month, the Associated Press reports, highlighting his state’s commitment to diversity and equality. When Edwards took office in January, he promptly issued an executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination in state employment and services, though it included a religious exemption for faith-based organizations. Although prior governors had issued similar executive orders, Edwards’s was the first to expressly include gender identity in its protections. He also made good on a campaign promise to rescind an anti-LGBT executive order issued by his predecessor, Republican Bobby Jindal.
Although Louisiana does not have statewide nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people beyond the executive orders (which can be repealed by a future governor), lawmakers have not even considered legislation similar to North Carolina’s HB 2, which also bars localities from enacting LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances.
The NBA had tweeted a message of concern shortly after North Carolina lawmakers passed HB 2 in a daylong special legislative session on March 23, and a diverse selection of people, including U.S. senators and retired NBA great Charles Barkley, had urged that the All-Star Game be moved.
In April, NBA commissioner Silver said the league would hold off on changing host cities and instead used the possibility of a move as an "incentive to change the law."
But by July, NBA officials had made up their minds. "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 HB 2," said a statement issued by the league when it announced it was moving the 2017 game. NBA officials added that they hoped to hold the 2018 All-Star Game in North Carolina, “provided there is an appropriate resolution to this matter.”