Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) is blasting the NBA and accusing the professional basketball league as “hypocritical” for how it’s dealing with China in the wake of pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, compared to its response to North Carolina’s controversial HB 2 in 2016.
When McCrory was governor, he signed into law HB 2, a bill passed by the Republican-dominated legislature that effectively overturned any local ordinances prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination and barred transgender individuals from using multi-user restrooms in government-owned facilities that match their gender identity. Republicans claimed the bill was necessary to protect safety in multi-user public facilities after the city of Charlotte passed a nondiscrimination ordinance that prohibited anti-LGBTQ discrimination in public accommodations.
The law created a significant backlash, prompting boycotts, leading to a loss of tourism dollars, and seeing major companies scuttle expansions or relocations to North Carolina as a result. In response to the law, the NBA relocated its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans, citing concerns that LGBTQ fans might be mistreated or discriminated against in North Carolina.
The league later awarded Charlotte the 2019 All-Star Game after HB 2 was repealed, even though the replacement law did not directly rescind the bathroom provisions and left local nondiscrimination ordinances in limbo until December 2020.
Last week, the league found itself mired in another controversy after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted a message expressing support for the recent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. In response to Morey’s tweet, the Communist Chinese government took offense, pulling sponsorship money from the Houston Rockets (the most popular team in the country due to former player and native Chinese son Yao Ming), banning media coverage of Morey, and severing ties between the Chinese Basketball Association and the Rockets.
In response to China’s actions, the NBA initially released a statement calling Morey’s “regrettable” and noting that it offended “many of our friends and fans in China.” Morey apologized, as did Rockets star James Harden, according to Yahoo! Sports. But those actions drew fire from critics who saw the NBA as capitulating to a regime that routinely commits human rights violation and suppresses its own citizens’ freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was then forced to issue his own statements expressing the league’s “long-held values” of support for freedom of expression, particularly by fellow Americans. He also said that he understood that the league might have to accept the consequences that could result if China and Chinese businesses pull their financial support of the league, while also attempting to keep the league’s relationship with the country — which, in turn, has opened up access to potential new fans and consumers — intact.
McCrory, who lost his re-election bid, in part, due to the backlash against the HB 2 law, is still bitter about the whole affair. But he’s even more incensed the league never attempted to find middle ground with North Carolina lawmakers in the way that it has with Chinese politicians.
“I see hypocrisy,” McCrory told The Charlotte Observer, referring to the NBA’s relocation of the All-Star Game. “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, and it’s still true now.”
McCrory believes the NBA’s reaction to HB 2 wasn’t based on principle, but was about protecting business relationships with pro-LGBTQ companies who were sponsoring the league.
“They were losing some sponsorships [if All-Star Weekend was held in North Carolina; they told me that flat-out on the phone,” McCrory said. He noted that, at the time of the boycott, he took Silver to task for failing to sanction China for 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.”
The NBA has not responded to McCrory’s remarks.