OAKLAND, Calif. - Rick Welts figured he would begin work on a book project and line up some speaking engagements to keep him busy in the coming months.
The longtime NBA executive had put his professional life on hold — ever so briefly, as it turned out — to take care of the personal side. Openly gay in the sports world, he is in the process of relocating from Phoenix to Northern California to be with his partner, Todd Gage.
Welts' work plans changed in a hurry when the Golden State Warriors came calling. They happened to have an open executive position on the business side, and Welts had all the credentials to fill it.
Less than three weeks after leaving his job as a top businessman with the Suns, Welts has taken on a similar role with the rebuilding Warriors. He signed a multi-year deal to become the team's president and chief operating officer, reporting to new owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber.
"You talk about fortuitous. This is fortuitous," Lacob said Tuesday, when the team formally introduced Welts. "I know it when I see it. I've been hiring people for 25 years."
Welts received glowing recommendations from NBA commissioner David Stern and Suns owner Robert Sarver among others. Not that Lacob needed much convincing. Sarver called Lacob on Welts' behalf, but Lacob was about to make the call himself to inquire about Welts.
Last week, Lacob hosted Welts for a productive six-hour meeting at his home in nearby Atherton. Little did Welts know he would be sitting in front of Golden State's old-school blue and gold Bay Bridge logo by Tuesday, sporting a new striped tie in team colours.
"I had the biggest collection of orange ties in Phoenix," he said, smiling.
He hoped to eventually find another job in professional sports — and preferably in the NBA since it remained his "first love." Now 58, Welts began as a ballboy for the SuperSonics in his native Seattle more than four decades ago.
Welts joined the Suns in 2002 as president and had the additional title of CEO the past two seasons. He announced in May that he is gay. He would do it again, too.
"I can tell you that when I chose to go the route that I did, I certainly reached out to a couple of former and current players who were really extraordinary in their support," Welts said. "I heard from a lot of people in the professional sports industry who I didn't know who were in a similar situation and really appreciated at least having the ability to watch someone go through this process and see that it turned out really well and maybe encourage them on their own time frame, whenever it's right for them, to take the same step."
Welts insists he will continue to address the issue as often as needed, and the progressive, accepting Bay Area is a perfect spot to do so. By sharing his personal story with the world and addressing sexual orientation in sports, he knows he has taken on a bigger responsibility.
That's just fine with Welts.
"I think nobody gives a crap, for the most part," he said when asked if he might be breaking down barriers. "For whatever reason, again, in men's team sports we just have a hard time discussing it. I think the more we talk about it, the more comfortable we can be with it and the less, perhaps, threatening and scary it seems to those who are on any side of the issue."
Welts has received nothing but support since coming out. Letters and emails poured in from fans, parents, kids and colleagues.
"I wouldn't change anything about it. It sounds not even possibly true that out of all those thousands of emails and letters — people still send letters —I haven't had one negative reaction. I was prepared for something different," Welts said. "I can't tell you about anything negative. Really it has been pretty overwhelming. Obviously it took me a long time to get to. It was a big decision for me to make. ...
"It's part of my story but what I'm all about is running NBA basketball teams and I'm running the Warriors."
He has 36 years of NBA experience.
Welts was third in command in the NBA front office when he left in 1999 after 17 years. He helped establish all-star game weekend and the slam dunk contest, landed the league's Gatorade corporate sponsorship and counts his time with the Dream Team among his career highlights.
Turning around the Warriors would be right up there, too. He has admired the franchise from afar and took notice when Lacob and Guber began making sweeping changes to an organization that has reached the playoffs just once since 1994.
"Everyone in the NBA looks at this franchise as the sleeping giant," Welts said. "It all starts with ownership. The buzz outside of the Bay Area is there is something happening here that is going to be very special. ... I never heard one of these guys use the word good. The only way they described the organization is great. I've been a Warriors fan for a long time from a distance."
When it comes to Welts' sexual orientation, Lacob doesn't care. But he does admire the courage to come out in a profession where it is rare.
Lacob believes he has found yet another leader to help transform this franchise. Lacob already brought in Bob Myers as assistant general manager, Hall of Famer Jerry West in an advisory role and Mark Jackson as the new coach.
"Whether he's gay or straight is irrelevant," Lacob said. "I want the best executive possible. All I care about is winning, and we're going to get there. I promise you, we're going to get there. He took a huge risk. It's a pretty impressive thing he did in the world of sports."