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NBA Moves Its All-Star Game Out Of Charlotte. Here's A Former Player's Take

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we want to go back to that controversial North Carolina law passed back in March that limits anti-discrimination provisions for LGBT people. You may recall that major businesses and entertainers have been refusing to do business in the state in protest. Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr canceled shows there, and PayPal pulled out of a new global payment center it had planned.

This week the National Basketball Association announced that the 2017 All-Star Game which had been scheduled for Charlotte will not be played there. So we thought we'd like to hear from former pro baller John Amaechi about this. He played for the Orlando Magic and the Utah Jazz in the early 2000s. And he was the first pro basketball player to publicly identify as gay. We reached him in London. Welcome. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

JOHN AMAECHI: It's a pleasure. Thank you.

MARTIN: How big of a deal is this for the NBA, in your opinion, both to you and for the league?

AMAECHI: I think it's deeply important because all the positive rhetoric we'd want from the league has happened, and this was a test, I think, because sometimes the rhetoric is easy. But actually, doing the acrobatics that will be required to, at this short notice, shift to games - an All-Star Game is really the thing that indicates that they are on the right path, at least in this regard.

MARTIN: For people who aren't aware, the All-Star weekend isn't just one game - right? - it's a whole series of events.

AMAECHI: No. It's quite literally hundreds of events. It's a mixture between branded events for the NBA, stuff with sponsors and partners, as well as a whole host of community events as well.

MARTIN: So your view - this is a real statement. It's not a matter of just, say, playing one game like people might imagine that sometimes games get rescheduled because of weather or because of some other thing. It's a much bigger deal than just moving one game.

AMAECHI: It's certainly a much bigger deal than moving one game. I think it's not quite as big a statement as moving the franchise out of Charlotte, but it is certainly a massive statement that the league could take and should have taken.

MARTIN: What is your take on why the NBA decided to make this move? And I do want to mention that North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has reacted kind of furiously to this. He's called it a number of things - total PC BS. He says this is a corporate elite kind of bullying the people of the state. But what's your take on that - on why?

AMAECHI: I think a principle is a principle. I think it's deeply important because most corporates are light years ahead of sports in terms of their approach to diversity in their own internal workings, so it's clearly a good move from a business point of view, from a business partnership point of view. But it's also a good move in terms of congruence, basic congruence.

The response you've mentioned from the legislators in that state is just deeply puerile. It is juvenile beyond measure - that the beauty of free speech is that you can do and say most things as long as you are bound by the law. What is not free is the consequence. That is not political correctness. That is simply the natural order of things.

MARTIN: To be fair, their argument is that they are defending the natural order of things in their view.

AMAECHI: Except - see this is the problem. The Earth is not 6,000 years old. The Earth is not flat. You can think that if you want, but your opinion if it cannot be backed up with science is moot.

MARTIN: Well, before we let you go, though, it does appear that the NBA is willing to be out front of other sports leagues on certain issues, for example, forcing Donald Sterling to sell the Los Angeles Clippers after his, you know, racist conversations were made public and also some treatment, you know, of employees and things of that sort became publicly known. And I do want to note that there are a number of openly gay women currently playing in the WNBA.

On the other hand, you know, I'm sure you're aware of this other issue that surfaced this week where a number of women players and their teams were fined when they wore T-shirts during their warm-ups calling attention to the issue of police shootings. And the men who made similar statements, like Lebron James, for example - and the - when he was then playing with the Miami Heat, were not fined. And I'm just interested in what's your take on that?

AMAECHI: I don't understand how it's possible that one set of principles are important and another are not. The WNBA is 60 percent black. These women have been vanguards and role models in so many different ways way before many men have in so many different ways. And the idea that they would be persecuted seems incongruent to me. We want our sports people to stand for more than selling shoes made by Bangladeshi children to other families who can't afford them.

We want them to stand for great principles and this idea of standing up against the senseless murder of unarmed black people by those few poor policemen is a good cause, and it is the very same type of principle that the league itself is standing up for with this move of the All-Star Game. That should not have led to their sanction. It should have led to their celebration.

MARTIN: That is former pro ball player John Amaechi. He played for the Orlando Magic and the Utah Jazz. He was the first pro basketball player to publicly identify as gay. We reached him in London where he is a practicing psychologist. Dr. Amaechi, thank you so much for speaking with us.

AMAECHI: A pleasure.

MARTIN: And I just want to mention we spoke with John Amaechi yesterday afternoon. Since then, there's been another development on this story. Last night, the WNBA said it would reverse its decision to fine those players and teams where players wore those Black Lives Matter T-shirts before their games. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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