Golden State Warriors president and COO Rick Welts, the NBA’s first out gay executive, plans to retire at the end of the 2020-21 NBA season.
Welts, a 68-year-old NBA Hall of Famer, will step into an advisory role while the team searches for a president to replace him following a decade-long stint during which he helped steer the franchise to three championships over the course of five seasons.
Welts became the first out gay executive of an NBA team when he came out in 2011 during his time in the Phoenix Suns’ front office. He left the Suns that year and joined the Golden State Warriors.
The longtime NBA executive’s career dates back to 1969 when he got his start with the Seattle Supersonics — a team no longer in existence. Welts’ many accomplishments include creating the NBA’s All-Star weekend and helping to launch the WNBA. This year, however, his Warriors are in the midst of another lackluster season after struggling throughout a disappointing 2019-2020 campaign.
“This has been the ride of a lifetime,” Welts said in a written statement released by the Warriors April 8. “To have had a front row seat to the growth of the NBA from where it was in the late 1960s to its place today as one of the most respected and successful leagues in sports on a global stage has been an incredible privilege.”
Welts said he is “excited for my own next chapter,” though he did not elaborate on his future plans.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver reacted to Welts’ retirement announcement by praising the out gay executive’s successful career.
“Simply put, Rick Welts played a transformational role in creating the modern NBA during his more than 40 years as a pioneering league and team executive,” Silver said in a written statement. “His extraordinary vision, leadership and humanity have defined his Hall of Fame career, which has set the standard of excellence in the sports industry. I had the tremendous good fortune to learn about the business of the NBA and its teams directly from Rick in my early years at the league office and have always appreciated his friendship and generosity. As he transitions into his next endeavor, I have no doubt that Rick will continue to leave his mark on the game and the greater sports business.”
During a 2019 interview with Gay City News in Manhattan, Welts reflected on his own coming out story and its impact on the lives of others.
“The outreach I get weekly from somebody on a team or league who is kind of trying to figure all this out and connect with someone who would understand their experience, there is no greater honor than doing that,” Welts said at the time. “But none of that would have happened if I didn’t take the step of telling my story.”
Welts also recalled his job interview with Golden State — which came just months after he first came out. The team owners did not bring up his sexuality until an hour into the interview, and when they did, they just casually asked how his coming out went.
“It was so not on their radar,” he said. “It was like, wow, OK, I like the culture of this place.”
Welts went on to become a key name among out LGBTQ figures in the sports world. He immersed himself in initiatives such as the You Can Play campaign to support queer athletes and combat anti-LGBTQ bigotry in the sports world. When he spoke to Gay City News, he was in New York City with his partner, Todd Gage, to co-chair Athlete Ally’s annual awards event.
Notably, Welts used that event to push back against the ongoing attacks on transgender athletes. Two of the honorees that evening were high school athletes Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller of Connecticut, who were targeted by President Donald Trump and his administration as part of efforts to oppose the rights of trans athletes to participate in accordance with their gender identity.
“The two transgender student-athletes we’re honoring tonight are literally writing history every day of their lives,” Welts said that night. “They’re doing it in a fearless way, not exactly knowing what the end of the story is going to be.”
In the decade since Welts came out, only one NBA player followed suit — Jason Collins — and it has been six years since he retired. During his interview with Gay City News, Welts underscored the importance of creating a welcoming environment to pave the way for other players.
“We can’t make the decision for them,” Welts said. “It’s the most personal, difficult decision they’ll probably ever make. What we can do is make sure we create the work atmosphere where they know their job is not in jeopardy.”