HoopsHype Rick Welts rumors

May 28, 2011 Updates

Rick Welts, the Suns’ chief executive, recently announced that he was gay. How do you think he’ll be received by the players? Steve Nash: I don’t think the players on our team care. Not a lot of guys on the team have a lot of contact with Rick, including myself. Obviously, I have a ton of respect for him and what he does for the organization. I think he’s great at what he does. New York Times

May 23, 2011 Updates

What has the response been in the week following the announcement?: Rick Welts: “There’s no other word than overwhelming, but overwhelmingly positive. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of emails, texts, phone calls and now I’m just starting to open mail. I’ve got U.S. senators, commissioners, players, owners, former co-workers. … I think the ones that are going to stick with me the longest are the people that I don’t know who have just felt the need to reach out — parents of kids who are struggling with this in their own lives, kids themselves.” Sports Radio Interviews

Has he heard any negativity or is he braced for that in case it happens?: Rick Welts: “I was braced for it, and I know you’re going to find this hard to believe, but not one of those interactions up to this point has been somebody who felt the need to express dissatisfaction. Every single one has been written out of wanting me to know that that person supported me, thanked me, was proud of me, or somehow impacted their own situation. … That blows me away. I was braced for what I expected to be some negativity about it. It hasn’t happened yet. I suppose that’s inevitable. But on balance it’s clear to me right now that’s not what I’m going to be dealing with to a great extent.” Sports Radio Interviews

In the wake of Phoenix Suns general manager Rick Welts' revelation that he is gay, Suns point guard Steve Nash has made a video in support of New York's marriage equality proposition. "Hi I'm Steve Nash," he says in the video, produced by the Human Rights Campaign, a national organization leading the effort to legalize same-sex marriage in New York. "I spend my summers in New York and I love playing at the Garden. A growing number of professional athletes are speaking out in support of gay and lesbian couples getting married, I'm proud to be one of them. Join me and the supermajority of New Yorkers who support marriage equality." ESPN.com

Nash had been considering appearing in the video for months. According to HRC vice president of communications Fred Sainz, the NBA star ultimately timed the release to support Welts and New York Rangers forward Sean Avery, who experienced a backlash among hockey fans after making a similar video. NHL player agent Todd Reynolds called Avery's support for the issue "misguided." Many anonymous commenters on message boards harshly criticized Avery for his support of the proposition, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has advanced. Cuomo is hoping for a vote by legislators in June. A previous proposition was defeated in New York by the State Senate in 2009. This time, proponents have generated a marketing campaign that's drawn the support of celebrities such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and actors Julianne Moore and Sam Waterston. ESPN.com

May 17, 2011 Updates

After all, Barkley has no doubt he played with several gay teammates. “I didn’t think it . . . they were gay,” he said when asked Monday about Phoenix Suns President Rick Welts coming out in a New York Times story over the weekend. Washington Post

He didn't know how the other NBA executives would feel. He didn't know how NBA players, Suns fans, friends or strangers would react. For several anxious hours at 36,000 feet, Welts waited for the turbulence below. "It was a little bit surreal to be in a place where I couldn't even talk to anybody," Welts said by telephone from New York on Monday. In the first 24 hours after the story appeared on line, he was overwhelmed by the tone of the responses. He said he had gotten hundreds of emails. He said he saved the supportive voice mail ("It was priceless") from former Phoenix Sun Charles Barkley. Seattle Times

"I have to admit," Welts said, "it's pretty moving to read some of the emails I've gotten from people I don't even know who, for whatever reason, felt they wanted to reach out and say, 'Thank you for doing what you've done and here's my story and here's what I'm thinking about now.' That's pretty powerful. "And they haven't slowed down. They keep coming, which is kind of the most surprising thing to me. The responses I've been getting and the stories I've been reading in my emails show that the power of words is really there in changing people's lives." Seattle Times

I've known Welts for more than 35 years, since he was an assistant public-relations director with the Sonics and I was a cub reporter in Olympia. I knew what a great guy he was. I knew how hard he worked. I didn't know about his courage. As progressive as the NBA has been toward civil-rights issues, male professional team sports still are behind the curve when it comes to issues of homosexuality. Welts risked his professional life telling this story. "I've never felt any hostility in the work environment," Welts said. "But there is this kind of silence about (homosexuality) where we just agree not to talk about it. I think the NBA is further along in all (civil rights) issues. It's a far more diverse culture. I think the NBA is ahead of the pro sports curve, but that still is way behind where society is right now." Seattle Times

He was asked what he'd say if an NBA player came to him and said he wanted to announce he was gay. "I wouldn't be encouraging or discouraging," said Welts, 58. "I would just help him talk through what he was thinking. I'd probably ask him a lot of questions about how he came to his conclusion and if he was confident in it. And then I would cheer it. "But I would be the last one to say that what I'm trying to do here is to be out there encouraging people to do that just because I was ready to do it. It is such a personal thing. I would just tell someone to follow their heart and do what they think is right." Seattle Times

I can't believe this is an issue we still have to talk about. But it is. "You look how far we've come in the last 20 years, as a society and I think, in some ways, the progress is miraculous," Welts said. "Society is way ahead of male team sports on this one, but it seems to me that the direction and the momentum today will lead inevitably to a more inclusive society where this is no big deal." Seattle Times

May 16, 2011 Updates

Rick Welts was 40,000 feet in the air two hours from New York when, as he put it, "my life was changing below me." The Phoenix Suns president and chief executive officer knew the story revealing he was gay had been posted on the Internet by The New York Times. When he landed, he was overwhelmed by the support he found on his Blackberry. In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, Welts said he chose such a public forum to announce his sexual orientation to "engender conversation" on a topic not often discussed in professional sports. He also wanted to show young people "who are struggling with their own issues" that they can have a successful career, whether it be in team sports or something else. SI.com

May 15, 2011 Updates

Alvin Gentry, who has been the Suns' head coach for 2½ seasons after joining the team in 2004 as an assistant coach, complimented Welts, saying the fact he is gay is beside the point. "I had a feeling about it," Gentry told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard when asked if he knew Welts was gay. "To me, what does it matter? I know he's great at his job; he's very organized and he does a brilliant job. To me, [his sexuality] is irrelevant. "I'm happy for Rick because I think it takes a ton of weight off his shoulders," Gentry added. "I'm glad for him because it puts him in a more relaxed state. Do I look at him any differently or judge him any differently? Not in a million years. I've dealt with Rick for the last seven years and he's a great CEO and a great person.'' ESPN.com

Last month, in a Midtown office adorned with sports memorabilia, two longtime friends met for a private talk. David Stern, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, sipped his morning coffee, expecting to be asked for career advice. Across from him sat Rick Welts, the president and chief executive of the Phoenix Suns, who had come to New York not to discuss careers, but to say, finally, I am gay. New York Times

By this point, Mr. Welts had already traveled to Seattle to share his news with another friend, Bill Russell, one of the greatest basketball players ever and the recent recipient of the Presidential Medal of Honor. He had also met with Val Ackerman, the founding president of the Women’s National Basketball Association, in New York, and would soon be lunching in Phoenix with Steve Nash, the point guard and leader of the Suns and twice the N.B.A.’s most valuable player. New York Times

Mr. Stern did not find the discussion with Mr. Welts awkward or even surprising; he had long known that his friend was gay, but never felt that he had license to broach the subject. Whatever I can do to help, the affably gruff commissioner said. He sensed the decades of anguish that had led the very private Mr. Welts to go public. After what needed to be said had been said, the two men headed for the door. And for the first time in their 30-year friendship, they hugged. New York Times

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