OAKLAND, Calif. – Rick Welts has found the ideal fit: a new gig in the Bay Area with the Golden State Warriors.
Welts was hired as Golden State's president and chief operating officer Monday and will report to owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber while handling the franchise's business operations.
The team planned to introduce Welts on Tuesday at the team's practice facility. He replaces Robert Rowell, who resigned in June as the club's top executive for business operations.
Welts left a position as president and chief executive of the Phoenix Suns earlier this month for personal reasons, four months after he became the first senior sports executive to openly acknowledge he was gay.
Welts said at the time he would relocate to Northern California to be with his partner.
"It's an opportunity probably for the first time for me to align my personal and professional lives," he said.
The 58-year-old former NBA front office executive — he was third in command when he left in 1999 — said he hoped to return to work for a professional sports franchise in the Bay Area. He didn't have to wait long for that opportunity.
"His track record in all facets of the business — sponsorship, marketing, public relations, event management, team services, merchandising — and his ability to be strategically creative and cutting-edge make him the ideal candidate to lead our organization," Lacob said. "Quite honestly, I'm convinced that we could not have found a better candidate for the job."
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 was gay.
He said his life since then has been "fascinating" and that he intended to do more work to promote the cause of "treating everyone equally."
Welts has 36 years of NBA experience.
"It's hard to express how excited I am to embrace this opportunity and be part of a collective group in building the Warriors into a championship caliber organization," Welts said. "I've been most impressed with Joe Lacob and Peter Guber's vision and desire to do something great. Not good, but great. Many of the ingredients are here — the Warriors' rich history, the team's amazing fan support, and the strength of the Bay Area as a sports market.
"We have a lot of work to do and I can't wait to get started."
Lacob and Guber, who bought the Warriors for a record $450 million in July 2010 from longtime owner Chris Cohan, have wasted no time putting their stamp on the organization.
There have made major changes in a matter of months.
In April, they gave general manager Larry Riley a new contract to stay in his current position as GM and executive vice president of basketball operations, and hired former sports agent Bob Myers as the team's assistant GM and vice president of basketball operations to serve as Riley's right-hand man and contract expert.
The Warriors parted ways with coach Keith Smart after one season and replaced him with Mark Jackson. Smart led Golden State (36-46) to 10 more victories than a year ago after taking over last minute last September for the NBA's career wins leader, Don Nelson.
Golden State hired Jerry West this spring to serve in an advisory role in the front office.
"Peter Guber and I have made it quite clear since we assumed control of this team in November that we're looking to build a world class organization from top to bottom," Lacob said. "We feel that we've taken a quantum leap in that direction today with the addition of Rick Welts as our president and COO. Rick is simply one of the most highly regarded executives in the NBA and his accomplishments at both the team and league levels are extremely impressive.
"He's been an integral part of every organization that he's worked for in the NBA, including the league office in New York, where he earned the respect and admiration of (commissioner) David Stern, as well as with the SuperSonics in Seattle and the Suns in Phoenix."
Welts began his NBA career as a ball kid for the SuperSonics in 1967. He worked for 17 years in the NBA front office, rising to the position of executive vice president and chief marketing officer.