Rick Welts is sleeping on an inflatable mattress in an unfurnished San Francisco apartment. In a matter of a few short months, his whole world has been turned upside down. He packed up his life and belongings, left the comfort of a top-tier job and is living alone in a new city. And he’s never been happier.
On May 16 of this year, Welts, the then-president and CEO of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, came out of the closet as a gay man at the age of 58. And he did so in a very public way with a front-page, in-depth piece and interview in The New York Times. It would be a story that would forever change his life and the world of men’s professional sports...for the better.
When you talk to Rick Welts today, words like “whirlwind,” “extraordinary” and “unexpected” come up a lot. And those three words only begin to describe his past year. Just a few days prior to our chat, Welts stood before the press in Oakland, California, and answered a barrage of questions. But what his plans might be in his new position as the Golden State Warriors’ president and chief operating officer or his thoughts on the NBA lockout weren’t exactly the hot topic. “I have to admit, it’s still pretty surreal sitting there answering questions about what it’s like to be gay in the world of professional men’s sports,” Welts says with a laugh. “That clearly is a little bit different for a professional basketball team’s news conference.”
Article continues below...
But to understand the place Welts finds himself today—the highest-ranking openly gay sports executive in the U.S.—you have to understand what it took to get here. And that includes an honest, uncompromising love for the game.
“I had a very, very supportive family and was completely out in my private life prior to all this,” Welts says of life before his spring announcement. “The only corner of my life that this was not really disclosed to was my work life, and that was a choice I made to do what I thought I needed to do at the time to be as successful in my profession as I wanted to be.” Welts has essentially been in the world of basketball his whole life. From his start as a ball boy for his hometown Seattle SuperSonics in the ’60s to his roles in marketing and promotions for the league, the sports world was where Welts lived and professionally thrived—but always with a firm arm’s length when it came to personal matters. Even though he was living as a gay man outside of the arenas, including having long-terms relationships, Welts never let that area of his life intersect with his work world.
It all began to come to a head a few years ago when, as detailed in the Times article, his 14-year relationship ended in part to his partner’s resentment over having to keep their life together in the closet. It would take two years of soul searching, private meetings with family and close confidants and the beginning of a new relationship for Welts to take the brave leap and finally blend his personal and professional worlds. And when it happened, he was 40,000 feet above ground and clueless as to how the world was reacting.
Read more about Rick in the November Issue of Instinct—out now!