Golden State Warriors president and chief operating officer Rick Welts, 68, will retire after the season, the team announced Thursday.
In his 10 seasons with the team, Welts helped guide Golden State to the most successful decade in franchise history, as they won three championships and moved from Oakland’s Oracle Arena to the $1.4 billion Chase Center in San Francisco. A recent minority stake sale valued the team at about $5.5 billion.
Welts will remain associated with the organization as an advisor. The Warriors are expected to name a new team president within the next week.
“This has been the ride of a lifetime,” Welts said in a statement. “To have had a front-row seat to the growth of the NBA from where it was in the late 1960s to its place today as one of the most respected and successful leagues in sports on a global stage has been an incredible privilege. The first day I met Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, I wanted to be a part of building what I knew could be a special organization. We have the most talented staff in the industry, and we are poised for even greater success in the future. Personally, I am excited for my own next chapter.
“When Joe, Peter and I agreed on the timing of this announcement two years ago, we didn’t have a pandemic on our radar screen. As it turns out, now that we can look forward to welcoming fans back safely to Chase Center, and we have a realistic hope for a return to ‘business as usual’ for next season, this timing feels perfect.”
Welts, a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, has worked in the NBA for 46 years. In 2011, he accepted the job as team president of the Warriors. That same year, Welts became the highest-ranking executive in men’s professional team sports to publicly acknowledge he was gay.
“I’ll never forget the day we introduced Rick to the media as our President in 2011,” Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob said in a statement. “On that day, he noted the Warriors franchise was always viewed as a sleeping giant that could be very successful if it ever got into the right hands. Well, there were no better hands than those of Rick Welts, and 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. 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.”
“Much like a movie needs a well-placed and perfectly-aligned star to make it successful, you need to find the right person to lead an organization to prominence,” Warriors co-owner Peter Guber said in a statement. “Fortunately, we found that 10 years ago in Rick Welts. His hiring was one of the most important decisions Joe and I have made since purchasing the Warriors. The ability he demonstrated to navigate any situation with precision and grace—from building a new arena to dealing with a pandemic—is unparalleled. He wrote an incredible script and played the role to perfection. We will be indebted to him forever.”
After beginning his career in 1969 as a 16-year-old ball boy with the Seattle SuperSonics, Welts eventually became the team’s public relations director, a role he held during the organization’s championship in 1979. From 2002 to 2011, Welts was the president and CEO of the Phoenix Suns.
From 1982 to 1999, Welts held several positions at the NBA front office. During his 17 years, he developed the concept for an NBA All-Star Weekend in 1984, came up with the marketing campaign for the 1992 Olympics “Dream Team” and was honored for his work promoting the WNBA.
Welts was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018.
“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 in a statement. “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.”