On the Sunday that NCAA Round 2 games were to be played in Greenville, S.C., a man who works for the ACC said, “If North Carolina and Duke lose today, House Bill 2 will be repealed tomorrow.”
I laughed when he said it, but he wasn’t kidding. He noted that two of the three best TV markets for college basketball are Greensboro/Winston-Salem and Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill. (The other is Louisville, Ky.) North Carolina and Duke — the former nearly lost that day; the latter did lose — were playing in Greenville because the NCAA had moved first- and second-round games out of Greensboro due to HB2, the bathroom-rights bill.
Today — four days after the Tar Heels beat Kentucky on Luke Maye’s shot with 0.3 seconds remaining, two days before they’re to face Oregon in the Final Four — the process of repealing HB2 is in full swing. Not to trivialize something that is at heart a human-rights issue, but college basketball had something to do with this.
The NCAA is about to vote on sites for its next several tournaments. Were HB2 in place, the NCAA wouldn’t have awarded any games to the state of North Carolina. Such games have become almost a Carolina birthright. There being no domed stadium inside its borders, the Tar Heel State has no shot at a Final Four, but sub-regionals and the occasional regional became virtually an annual event in Greensboro or Raleigh or Charlotte or Winston-Salem.
(History: The NCAA tournament had made 14 North Carolina stops from 2000 through 2016. In 1997, there were sub-regionals staged in Winston-Salem, where Dean Smith broke Adolph Rupp’s record for career victories, and Charlotte, where Duke lost to Providence and God Shammgod.)
(More history: North Carolina State famously won the 1974 national championship without leaving the state. More recently, North Carolina won the ACC tournament and qualified for the 2008 Final Four — that’s three weeks of playing, FYI — without boarding an airplane.)
In a nation where college football has risen to gargantuan status, there remain two outposts where college hoops still hold sway. One is in the tri-state area that includes Louisville, Kentucky, Indiana, Butler, Xavier, Cincinnati and Dayton — and the other is along Tobacco Road. HB2 dealt North Carolina out of the tournament-hosting game, which was a major loss.
Both the NCAA and the ACC, which is headquartered in Greensboro, pulled their events for what those organizations saw as an affront to (the NCAA’s words here) “fairness and inclusion.” Beyond those who simply wanted North Carolina and Duke to have favorable sub-regional sites — and it’s worth noting that the Blue Devils wound up losing to South Carolina in, er, South Carolina — there was also the monetary loss. Tournaments mean tourists; tourists mean money.
Both the Tar Heels’ Roy Williams and the Blue Devils’ Mike Krzyzewski — the two most famous men in their state — have lambasted HB2. Williams called it “sad.” Krzyzewski called it “stupid,” adding: “It’d be nice if our state got smart. … Maybe we’ll get there in the next century.”
On Wednesday HB2 opponents released a video featuring Williams, Krzyzewski — and Maye’s winning shot. The video ended with these words: “They want basketball in North Carolina. Does your lawmaker?”
On Thursday morning, a committee in the North Carolina Senate approved a compromise that would would repeal HB2. Both legislative houses still to vote, but the Raleigh News & Observer reported that the bill to repeal “could end up on the governor’s desk by day’s end.”
Assuming this happens, it would be wrong to say that the repeal was all about something frivolous like basketball. It would also be wrong to suggest that there aren’t times when the frivolous can rise to become something more, something actually important. Like this.