Seattle native Rick Welts, whose career in professional basketball began with a stint as a ballboy with the Seattle SuperSonics, Saturday was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA. A graduate of Queen Anne High and the University of Washington, Welts also worked for the club as an equipment manager and public relations director before striking out for the league office in New York.
Since 2011, he has been president and COO of the Golden State Warriors, who have won two of the past three NBA championships.
Between his tenure with the Sonics when they won their lone title in 1979 and his gig with the Warriors, Welts, 65, served as former commissioner David Stern’s right-hand man in New York.
Welts helped develop the league’s marketing strategies, helped create All-Star Weekend, helped create the U.S. Olympic Dream Team in 1992, helped launch the WNBA and worked as general manager of the Phoenix Suns. He has been with the Warriors since 2011.
“He did everything, and he was great at everything he did,” Stern told the San Francisco Chronicle Saturday. “He has an innate understanding of the capacity and potential of sports, combined with the ability to deliver results. We were soul mates with respect to what the potential of sports and the NBA could be. We were very much simpatico.”
As with Stern, who retired in 2014, Welts will enter the Hall of Fame in the category of contributor.
“When I think about Rick, I think about the effect he has had, his creativity, what he’s done for the sport of basketball, his ability to work his way up and to do it authentically,” former Stanford and WNBA star Jennifer Azzi told the Chronicle. “You can ask anyone who ever worked with him and they will all say he’s a great human being.”
In 1991, Welts and Stern helped Lakers superstar Magic Johnson orchestrate Johnson’s thenshocking announcement that he was HIV positive.
“We changed the debate on AIDS in this country because of Magic,” Stern said. “We developed NBA Cares, proof that sports has ability to make enormous outreach. It doesn’t surprise me at all that the NBA leads with respect to other developments.”
More than 20 years later, in 2011, Welts disclosed in a front-page story in the New York Times that he was gay, becoming the first prominent major professional sports executive to make such a public announcement.
The Sonics hit it big with Welts, Ray Allen and Rod Thorn being elected. Too bad the Sonics themselves aren’t still around.
If Stern had his way, any Seattle references in the hall would be expunged.
Agreed. Add Clay Bennett to that list. I’m looking forward to when Head Coach Nick Collison and his assistant coaches Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook lead the new Sonics to endless blow out wins over the Thunder.
Art– why did Stern hate Seattle so much?
One of Rick’s mentors was David Watkins. Dave was a Lincoln HS guy who became Assistant GM during the glory years of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Dave then went on to head up the Cavaliers when they were in Richfield, OH (great stories) and also worked in soccer. He has owned a small PR and marketing firm for decades in Seattle. Rick worked for Dave, and looked up to him like a big brother. They were an excellent creative team.
Anyone who had a copy of the ’79 Sonics championship yearbook likely remembers Rick and his sister Nancy pictured in the staff section.