Could Utah Jazz, Salt Lake City lose 2023 NBA All-Star Game over transgender sports bill?

The NBA says it is “working closely” with the Utah Jazz on the matter, which could also impact future NCAA events

(Rachel Rydalch | The Salt Lake Tribune) Promotion for LoveLoud, an upcoming LGBTQ+ concert, during a Jazz game on March 9, 2022. The NBA says it is “working closely” with the Utah Jazz regarding the 2023 NBA All-Star Game and HB11, which would bar transgender girls from participating in girls' athletics.

In his letter to Utah lawmakers explaining his veto of House Bill 11, Gov. Spencer Cox explained that the bill, which would prevent transgender girls from participating in school sports that match their gender identities, “has several fundamental flaws and should be reconsidered.”

In addition to the moral outrage that has arisen in response to a version of the bill that was hustled through without opportunity for public debate, there are practical issues at stake, with Cox focusing on the lack of financial protection for the Utah High School Activities Association, which is sure to face lawsuits if the legislature’s planned override of Cox’s veto occurs as expected.

However, there could be other unintended ramifications for Utah sports as a result of HB11 to consider. Key among them: The possibility of the NBA pulling next year’s planned All-Star Game out of Salt Lake City, and the NCAA declining to allow Utah schools to host future national and regional events in response.

There are already such precedents.

In July 2016, the NBA pulled the scheduled 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte, N.C., as a result of the league’s opposition to that state’s HB2, which sought to limit anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. (Charlotte did wind up hosting in 2019 after HB2 was later repealed.)

Is the 2023 NBA All-Star Game — scheduled to be hosted by the Utah Jazz — getting pulled from Salt Lake City is a possibility?

“We’re working closely with the Jazz on this matter,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass told The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday.

The Jazz organization has not yet commented on the situation. But team owner Ryan Smith, who has a history of publicly supporting LGBTQ+ causes — including a “LoveLoud Night” at Vivint Arena during the March 9 game vs. the Portland Trail Blazers — tweeted his opposition to the bill on Wednesday.

“We need to love these kids. This bill was rushed, flawed, and won’t hold up over time. I’m hopeful we can find a better way. Regardless, to all in the LGBTQ+ community, you’re safe with us,” Smith wrote to his 54,000 followers.

Utah Jazz part-owner Dwyane Wade and wife Gabrielle Union are parents to a transgender daughter, Zaya. Union recently conducted an interview with BuzzFeed that touched upon LGBTQ+ activism, saying in part: “It’s our job to be loving, compassionate, protective guides for our children, but their lives are their lives and we have to respect that,” she said. “We do not believe in any kind of shaming for existing. That is bizarre, cruel, [and] harmful.”

Having the All-Star Game potentially rescinded or postponed would be a blow. All-Star weekend draws in people from around the world and is typically is a significant money-maker for the host city.

The NBA has a history of taking stances on social justice issues. In the summer of 2020, as protests erupted throughout the country in direct response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, the NBA re-started from its COVID hiatus in a bubble environment near Orlando, Fla., with players wearing jerseys that featured social justice messages, and the court itself prominently featuring the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” Teams kneeled during the playing of the national anthem without penalty.

Meanwhile, the University of Utah is scheduled to host teams for first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games at Vivint Arena in 2024. It is also slated to host an NCAA women’s gymnastics regional at the Huntsman Center in 2025.

Just as North Carolina’s HB2 affected the NBA All-Star game, the NCAA made clear at the time that it would take extreme measures with regards to who gets to host its championships.

The NCAA responded to HB2 that fall by pulling seven championship events during the 2016-17 academic year from the state of North Carolina, which has been a desired host for decades across multiple sports. Among those seven events were an NCAA Tournament first/second-round site in Greensboro and a women’s soccer College Cup, aka the women’s soccer Final Four. At the time, the NCAA also made clear it would essentially ban North Carolina from future hosting opportunities through at least 2022.

On March 30, 2017, the state legislature partially repealed House Bill 2, removing the restrictions on restroom use by transgender individuals. Days later, the NCAA ended its prohibition on championship events in the state of North Carolina.

In the five years since North Carolina’s partial repeal, more states have moved forward with transgender athlete laws, but the NCAA has not stripped anyone else of already awarded championships, or banned anyone from future hosting opportunities.

The state of Arkansas banned transgender athletes from women’s sports teams in March 2021. The University of Arkansas will host the 2022 NCAA Track and Field Championships’ west preliminary, while the SEC school is still scheduled to host six other NCAA championship events through 2026.

The NCAA has not yet responded to multiple inquiries from The Salt Lake Tribune seeking comment on the matter.