What To Expect As Charlotte Hosts First All-Star Game In Nearly 30 Years
Charlotte takes a turn in the national sports spotlight this month as the city hosts the NBA All-Star game on Sunday, Feb 17. As many as 150,000 visitors are expected to converge on uptown and other local venues for a flurry of events over the three-day weekend.
Charlotte hosted its first and only other NBA All-Star game 28 years ago. A lot has changed and happened since then.
Fred Whitfield is the president and chief operating officer of the Charlotte Hornets and the co-chair of the local All-Star game organizing committee. He joined “All Things Considered” host Mark Rumsey to discuss Charlotte’s return as the host city.
Mark Rumsey: Originally, we would've been having this conversation a couple of years ago. Charlotte was supposed to host the All-Star Game in 2017. Of course, the controversy over House Bill 2, North Carolina's infamous bathroom bill, intervened.
The NBA pulled the game and the law was repealed, and here we are. In your dealings, how much aftertaste is still out there within the NBA or elsewhere?
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Fred Whitfield: I don't think there is a lot of an aftertaste. We're clearly looking to the future and we're so grateful to Adam Silver, our commissioner of the NBA, and his team for re-awarding us the 2019 game. And since we've been awarded that game, we as a community have all pulled together to do everything that we can possibly do to be prepared to host a great weekend for the NBA.
Rumsey: In some sense, do you think this is a better time for Charlotte to bask in national publicity? You know, now that HB2 is not front page news?
Whitfield: Well, I think it's better for us as a community because we've grown since 2017. There are probably five new uptown hotels that have been opened. We're thrilled that this will be the second year of the Nike partnership with the NBA and as a part of that partnership, the Jordan brand — which is Michael's division at Nike — is the actual official product for All-Star weekend. So, all of the All-Star players will be playing in Jordan Brand uniforms.
And so if there could be a positive and a perfect storm coming out of House Bill 2, that repeal and the game being pushed back a couple of years, I think it’s having the All-Star Game on Michael's actual birthday — Feb. 17.
With all the things that I just mentioned, it certainly makes us feel like we're ready to host a successful event. I think our city has progressed in the last two years and continues to grow. The population has increased and just the uptown corridor is even more energetic.
Rumsey: Well 150,000 or so visitors is a great thing, but it's also a challenging thing to deal with a lot of traffic a lot of congestion. What are your biggest concerns with hosting that crowd?
Whitfield: Well, I don't know if we necessarily have concerns about it. We've been working very closely with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, with the city of Charlotte, with Mecklenburg County and with the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, and we're certainly encouraging people to take advantage of our great light rail system.
We're also asking our local uptown businesses to at least consider having their workforce work remotely to help with the traffic flow on the Friday of All-Star weekend. But we're going to be buttoned up and we're going to be prepared host a great event.
One of the beautiful things about our city is that it’s just so walkable. Many of the folks will fly in and feel very welcome when they land at our airport and see the ambassadors that are hosting them. [They’ll see the] purple and teal rocking chairs, and a welcome message from our All-Star starter Kemba Walker.
The beauty of having our uptown hotels in close proximity to our arena and restaurants and so forth — it really creates an Olympic-style environment that will be very enjoyable for our guests.
Rumsey: So you mentioned Kemba Walker, the Hornets guard making his third All-Star game appearance. How does that enthusiasm spread to the rest of the team or even to the community?
Whitfield: Well, we're so excited and proud of Kemba to be selected as a starter. I can't think of a more deserving young man. He has worked very hard to become one of the best point guards — not only in the Eastern Conference, but in the NBA. And he's not only as a great player on the court, but he does a lot of great things out in the community.
So as you can imagine, our fan base is extremely excited — as is our own Michael Jordan — to have him star. Everyone in the organization is just thrilled that he is certainly getting what he deserves.