CHARLOTTE — Up until a few months ago, Rick Welts, the most prominent openly gay NBA executive, was unsure if he wanted to attend All-Star Weekend in Charlotte because of North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ law, USA TODAY Sports has learned.
According to two people with knowledge of the situation, the Golden State Warriors president and CEO was vacillating on the decision. The two people requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about Welts’ decision.
Welts, a longtime NBA executive who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018, will participate in All-Star Weekend, but it required conversations with Gov. Roy Cooper, local officials and Charlotte Hornets executives.
Welts declined to comment through a team spokesperson.
Had Welts not attended, it wouldn’t have registered a ripple among fans. But inside the NBA, it would have been a significant rebuke and low moment for the league.
Welts is considered the father of the modern All-Star Game and was the influential voice behind convincing owners to relocate the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans because of North Carolina House Bill 2, the anti-LGBTQ law that required people to use public bathrooms of their birth gender and omitted gay and transgender people from discrimination protections.
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At the 2016 summer NBA owners’ meeting in Las Vegas, Welts gave a poignant but measured address to owners. Welts explained who he was — a man who began his NBA career as a ballboy for the Seattle SuperSonics, working his way up through the team’s public relations department and eventually to NBA headquarters in New York.
He was instrumental in revitalizing All-Star Weekend in the mid-1980s, making it a more player and fan friendly event. He was a major figure in marketing the 1992 Dream Team for the Barcelona Olympics, which remains a seminal moment in the NBA’s global growth.
He told owners that if the league decided to keep the All-Star Game in Charlotte in 2017 that he would not attend if the law wasn’t changed or repealed. He didn’t deliver the message as a threat and said other NBA employees told him they would not feel comfortable in Charlotte.
Owners decided to relocate the game.
“After that announcement, a law was passed in North Carolina called HB2, which in the view of the league office and many others, discriminated against the LGBTQ community,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Saturday. “We then made a decision that it was inconsistent with the values of this league to play the All-Star Game here under those circumstances.”
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North Carolina repealed the law and replaced it with HB142. It altered the bathroom portion of the law but prevented local governments from enacting their own ordinances. It was enough for the NBA to bring the event to Charlotte for 2019.
LGBTQ supporters still find the law troubling, and in his comments to reporters on Saturday, Silver acknowledged that.
“For many people, it didn’t go far enough, and I’m sympathetic to those who feel that there are still not appropriate protections for the LGBTQ community,” he said. “But I also felt from a league standpoint it was important, and as part of our core values, to work with people and ultimately to move forward with the community.”
The NBA created for All-Star partners “Equality Principles” guidelines in an effortto ensure everyone is welcome.
One guideline: “Each partner will be required to provide all people with the right and opportunity to enjoy fully the goods, services and facilities of any place of public accommodation it provides, free of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or any other legally protected characteristic.”
Welts is here, as are Jason Collins, the first openly gay player to play in the NBA, and Los Angeles Lakers’ Reggie Bullock, a North Carolina native whose transgender sister Mia Henderson was stabbed to death.
Instead of taking a short vacation during the break, Bullock met with LGBTQ kids from the Charlotte area, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“It was good for me to be able to be here with them and talk to them and hear their stories,” Bullock told the paper. “They weren’t holding back on anything. It opened up my eyes to what they have to go through on a daily basis, because when you randomly walk past someone, you never (know) what they’re going through. I’m trying to educate myself every day as a straight man on this community that I stand up for and support.”
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt