As the backlash to North Carolina's recent "anti-discrimination" law mounts, one of the NBA's most legendary icons -- Charles Barkley -- is calling on the league to relocate 2017's All-Star Game, which is scheduled to be held in the state, in protest of the legislation.
Last month, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law a bill that prevents cities and counties from passing their own anti-discrimination rules, and even bars transgender citizens from using the restroom of their preference. Several companies, including PayPal and Google Ventures, have signaled that they are cutting ties with the state because of their stance on LGBT rights, and following the NFL's role in derailing similar legislation in Georgia, there has been pressure on the NBA to reconsider its relationship with the Tarheel state.
"As a black person, I’m against any form of discrimination – against whites, Hispanics, gays, lesbians, however you want to phrase it," the NBA Hall of Famer and current basketball analyst told CNN this week. "It’s my job, with the position of power that I’m in and being able to be on television, I’m supposed to stand up for the people who can’t stand up for themselves."
Barkley, despite his infamous ad from the 1990s where he declared "I am not a role model," has been exemplary on the issue of gay rights for years. When ex-NBA player Tim Hardaway went on a homophobic rant in a radio interview back in 2007, Barkley quickly condemned him. In 2011, he went further during an interview on Sirius XM Radio. “If somebody is gay, that’s their own business,” he said. “But it bothers me how people try to say that jocks are not going to like a gay ... I think gay people should be allowed to get married and God bless them, that’s their own business. Listen, if a guy can’t play that’s the only time we don’t want to play with him. We don’t care about all that extracurricular stuff.”
That same year he added: "First of all, every player has played with gay guys. It bothers me when I hear these reporters and jocks get on TV and say: 'Oh, no guy can come out in a team sport. These guys would go crazy.' First of all, quit telling me what I think. I'd rather have a gay guy who can play than a straight guy who can't play."
When Jason Collins became the first openly gay NBA player in 2013, Barkley said during an appearance on Dan Patrick;s radio show, "I probably had three or four gay teammates."
"Everybody did. Everybody played with a gay teammate, Dan. And it's no big deal. First of all, I think it's an insult to gay people to think that they're trying to pick up on their teammates. But everybody has played with a gay teammate ... It's obviously discussed, privately, because the problem is, Dan, unless somebody tells you they're gay, you can't say a thing about them being gay. Ya know, until somebody has the courage, and I think it takes great courage to come out, it's kind of an unspoken word to be honest with you," he said.
And last year, Barkley also spoke out against Indiana's controversial "religious freedom" bill, which critics argued permitted discrimination against gays and lesbians, amid the NCAA championship tournament. “Discrimination in any form is unacceptable to me. As long as anti-gay legislation exists in any state, I strongly believe big events such as the Final Four and Super Bowl should not be held in those states’ cities,” he said.
Curiously, before committing full-time to being a television personality, Barkley flirted with launching a career in politics -- as a Republican. For years, he floated the idea of running for governor of his home state of Alabama. He switched his party affiliation to the Democrats in 2006, telling reporters "I was a Republican until they lost their minds."
He endorsed President Obama in 2008 and 2012, but declared he was no longer interested in seeking higher office himself in 2011, telling TMZ that politics is a "bad business right now." Meanwhile, the city of Atlanta has expressed interested in substituting as host for next year's All-Star Game.
"The City of Atlanta draws strength from our diverse community,” said City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. “This unity creates our city's embracing spirit, a quality that has made Atlanta the destination of choice for numerous international business conventions, professional and college sporting events, as well as one of the largest concentrations of Fortune 500 companies in the nation. We would certainly welcome the opportunity to show that very spirit as the host of the 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend.”