Why the NBA isn’t moving the All-Star game out of Utah despite opposing the state’s transgender sports law

Believing the league cannot impact the ultimate outcome of HB11, the commissioner said it is the league’s view that “making threats that we’re going to move the All-Star Game would not be constructive.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announces that Salt Lake City will host the 2023 NBA All-Star Game at a news conference in Salt Lake City on Wednesday Oct. 23, 2019.

Back 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.

After the Utah Legislature overrode Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto of HB11 in late March, thereby prohibiting transgender girls from participating in high school athletics in the state, there was concern that the league could also pull the NBA All-Star Game scheduled for 2023 in Salt Lake City as a result.

On Wednesday, however, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said following a Board of Governors meeting that he doesn’t expect that will be the case.

“There was no discussion over the past two days about moving the All-Star Game from Salt Lake City, and we do not anticipate moving the game,” Silver said on a conference call. “I’m watching these bills throughout the country, and in those states where we have teams that are operating, we’re working directly with those teams.”

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.

“Our view today is that making threats that we’re going to move the All-Star Game would not be constructive,” Silver said.

Asked about the difference between the Charlotte and Salt Lake City situations, the commissioner noted that “In the case of HB2 in North Carolina, I think it was our collective view, working with the Hornets, that we could have an impact on that legislation. I think in the case of what’s happening in Utah right now, that bill is established.”

Jazz 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 before Cox’s veto was overridden.

“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.

After the legislative override, the Jazz as an organization issued an official statement condemning the move: “The Utah Jazz oppose discriminatory legislation. We are committed to our values of inclusivity, mutual respect, and fair play. Beyond basketball, we hope for an equitable solution that shows love and compassion for all our youth.”

Utah Jazz part-owner Dwyane Wade and wife Gabrielle Union are parents to a transgender daughter, Zaya.

Said Silver: “I think [Smith] stood up against this bill. We’ve joined him in opposing this bill. But we also want to be realistic, too, in terms of the impact we can have.”

He added that he was “not sure that moving the All-Star Game would even influence those people who feel strongly about having this bill on its books.

“I think you have to look at the dynamic of every situation,” the commissioner said. “I would say here, by us coming to Utah and demonstrating what our values are in terms of diversity, respect, inclusion, I think we can have the greatest impact.”

Part of the equation, he conceded is the growing proliferation of such bills, and the league’s appetite for having to respond to all of them

“We’re seeing a trend of these bills in the country, and I find them personally to be very divisive and in many cases a distraction from the issues we all should be really focused on as Americans,” he said.

But …

“[We] frankly don’t want to be in a position where we’re chased from state to state around the country,” Silver added.

After a conversation with with Smith to discuss the situation, and coming to the conclusion that the NBA lacked “an independent ability to change the minds of the voters of Utah in this, they ultimately decided that moving the All-Star Game — which draws in people from around the world and is typically is a significant money-maker for the host city — was not the move to make.

“We find that in our conversation with Ryan, we think we can create an inclusive environment for our All-Star Game in Salt Lake City that will be welcoming for all our guests and for the diverse community of Utah as well,” Silver said.

In short, the league is taking the view that its employees should not act as “dividers.”

“Our view today is that making threats that we’re going to move the All-Star Game would not be constructive,” he concluded.