Golden State Warriors president and chief operating officer Rick Welts, a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, will retire after the 2020-21 NBA season, it was announced Thursday.
Welts, 68, has spent 46 years working in the NBA, and in 2011, he became the most prominent sports executive to acknowledge that he is gay. He will remain with the Warriors as an advisor, and the team said it would likely name a new president within a week.
"One of the things I've always been good at, is knowing the right time to leave a position I've been in," Welts, 68, told Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. "For me, the time is perfect. When we were having the [retirement] discussion, nobody saw a pandemic. If it would have been a year ago, I think I would have struggled with that just because we were a total mess. We would have no idea how to find our way out of this. That would have not been a good look for me and the organization.
"Now, just this week, we have state guidance to maybe have fans in the stands hopefully before April is over and a path, hopefully, towards normalcy next year. I'm ready. The organization is ready. We're not going to miss a beat. ... I've done the big things that I can do. It's time to pass that on to somebody else."
Welts began his NBA career as a ball boy with the Seattle SuperSonics in 1969, eventually working his way up to becoming the team's public relations director when it won a championship in 1979.
He also worked with the Phoenix Suns from 2002 to '11, holding roles as president and CEO. The Seattle native has seen the Warriors win three NBA titles during his 11 years with the franchise and also oversaw the building of their state-of-the-art Chase Center in San Francisco.
"His intuition proved to be spot-on as his leadership, vision, creativity and relationship-building enabled us to reach heights never seen before in the NBA on the business side," Warriors co-executive chairman and CEO Joe Lacob said in a statement. "We thank him for his incredible contributions to our franchise and, more importantly, the class and character with which he represented our organization each day."
Warriors forward Draymond Green said Welts' retirement will be "a big blow" for the team, while head coach Steve Kerr called Welts "a huge part of the resurgence of the Warriors franchise since his arrival."
"He was so instrumental in so much of what has happened with this franchise," said Kerr, who also worked with Welts when he was general manager of the Suns from 2007-10. "The championships, the new arena. The brand that is now the Warriors 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. I know he's not actually retiring, I know he's going to continue to do a lot of great stuff, but we're really going to miss him with the Warriors and it's been an absolute pleasure to work with Rick over the years."
Welts also played a major role in marketing the NBA during his 17 years as an executive with the league. In addition to developing the idea for an NBA All-Star Weekend in 1984, he also promoted the Dream Team and the WNBA.
"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," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. "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."
Welts told The Undefeated that he expects to live with his husband, Todd Gage, in Sacramento and San Francisco during retirement and plans to travel to Europe once the pandemic ends. He also still plans to attend and watch a lot of NBA games.