SAN FRANCISCO — Behind the scenes with a smile, grace and dogged determination, Rick Welts played a key role in the Golden State Warriors’ return to winning — both on the floor and off it.
Now, he is ready for a new challenge. Welts will step aside from his job as team president and chief operating officer after this season and stay in the organization as an adviser.
“I’ve been privileged to work with Rick since 2007 in Phoenix when I was general manager and he was president of the Suns, just one of my favorite people on earth. Incredibly genuine, smart, charismatic, just a huge part of the resurgence of the Warriors franchise since his arrival,” coach Steve Kerr said.
“He was so instrumental in so much of what has happened with this franchise: the championships, the new arena, the brand that is now the Warriors that didn’t really feel the same 10 years ago, so I want to say thank you to Rick for all of his incredible work and his amazing career.”
This is Welts’ 10th season with the team, and the Warriors said Thursday they expect to name his successor within a week.
The 68-year-old Welts was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018. He has spent more than four decades in the NBA, including a stint at the league office in New York.
He led the project plan at second-year Chase Center, where the Warriors will welcome back fans for their April 23 home game against the Denver Nuggets and provide free at-home COVID-19 testing for fans ahead of time.
Team owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber made Welts the unofficial foreman for Chase Center, which opened in September 2019 as the organization relocated from Oakland to the Mission Bay district of San Francisco. Welts’ goal was to build one of the top entertainment venues in the world, right up with The O2 in London and Madison Square Garden in New York for attracting the best music shows.
“This has been the ride of a lifetime,” Welts said. “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.
“The first day I met Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, I wanted to be a part of building what I knew could be a special organization. We have the most talented staff in the industry, and we are poised for even greater success in the future. Personally, I am excited for my own next chapter.”
Welts — the first openly gay executive in the NBA and major men’s professional sports — has spent 46 seasons in the league, beginning as a Seattle SuperSonics ball boy and locker room attendant. He worked for the Suns before coming to Northern California.
“It meant a lot to me, just him breaking down that barrier took a lot of guts, because no sports executive had ever done so,” Kerr said of Welts’ decision a decade ago to come out as gay.
“Now, Rick looks back on it and it’s funny when talking to him about it now it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but back then it was a big deal. And as he always says it opened up so many more doors for him than he ever could have imagined. It meant so much to so many people. It meant so much to me on a personal level because it’s just crucial to see everybody out there – whether it’s friends, family, acquaintances or people you don’t know – it’s so crucial for them to feel comfortable in their own skin and to feel confident that they will have opportunities.”