Warriors President and COO Rick Welts to Deliver UW’s 2019 Commencement Address

Rick Welts, president and chief operating officer of the back-to-back NBA Champion Golden State Warriors, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018, and a University of Washington alumnus, will be the featured speaker at the UW’s Commencement exercises Saturday, June 15.

One of the most respected business executives in the NBA, Welts, 66, has over 40 years of experience in the league and owns the rare distinction of being a part of championship teams in the NBA (4), WNBA (2) and NBA G League (1). In his role, Welts oversees all business-related operations for the Warriors, including guiding the development of Chase Center, a $1 billion-plus privately financed sports and entertainment center in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood set to open this September.

“Rick Welts’ courageous leadership in the NBA and his advocacy for inclusion and equity on and off the court are an inspiring example for our students,” said UW President Ana Mari Cauce. “We’re proud to call him a Husky and look forward to welcoming him as our featured commencement speaker this year.”

A leader in the LGBTQIA+ community, in a front-page New York Times story in May of 2011 Welts became the highest ranking executive in men’s professional team sports to publicly acknowledge he is gay.

“There was nobody out there in my position, in my industry, who had taken that step. And therefore nobody I could look to, to maybe have confidence in where that journey might turn out,” Welts said. “I could be that person that I had never had in my industry that people might look to and, say, ‘That could work OK.’ My experience certainly would affirm that it can work out more than OK.”

Welts was presented with a United States Tennis Association 2011 ICON Award at the US Open in New York City, an award that recognizes and celebrates those who have had a positive impact on diversity and inclusion in the sports industry and society. Also in 2011, he was honored with GLSEN’s (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) Respect Award, which honors those who have made a difference in the areas of diversity and inclusion. In September 2014, he was honored by GLAAD, the nation’s LGBT media advocacy organization, with the Davidson/Valentini Award, which is presented to an LGBT media professional who has made a significant difference in promoting equality for the LGBT community. He also served as the celebrity Grand Marshall of San Francisco’s Pride Parade in 2015. In 2016 he was honored by the Anti-Defamation League with its “Torch of Liberty Award.” A member of Delta Chi fraternity while attending the University of Washington, in 2015 he was named “Delta Chi of the Year” by the national organization.

A native of Seattle, Washington, Welts began his NBA career in 1969, at the age of 16, as a ball boy with the Seattle SuperSonics. He spent 10 years with his hometown team serving a number of roles, including as the team’s director of public relations during back-to-back appearances in the NBA Finals (1978 and 1979) and the SuperSonics’ lone NBA Championship in 1979. Since then he’s worked in nearly every level of basketball operations, including a successful 17-year (1982-1999) stint at the NBA league office in New York, where he ascended through the ranks to eventually become the league’s third-in-command as the executive vice president, chief marketing officer and president of NBA Properties. Prior to the Warriors and following his league office tenure, he spent nine seasons as president of the Phoenix Suns. With the Warriors again atop the NBA’s Western Conference standings, he may be on the verge of leading his team to a historic fifth consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

“In my business, you try to win championships, but occasionally there’s a huge surprise you never could have anticipated. For me that was being inducted into the Hall of Fame last year,” he said. “To have that be followed up by being asked to be commencement speaker at the UW — I can’t call it a dream come true, because I never would have dreamt it.”

Welts currently serves as a board member of the Bay Area Council and the Warriors Community Foundation. He is a member the NBA’s Team Advisory Committee and Global Inclusion Council.

As he prepares for this return to his hometown, Welts can’t help noticing the absence of the SuperSonics, who left in 2008.

“It’s the biggest void in our league right now. We have a 30-team league that doesn’t have Seattle in it, and that’s a shame,” he said. “There’s nobody associated with the NBA who doesn’t think Seattle wouldn’t be a great basketball city — again.”

The University of Washington’s 144th Commencement ceremonies will take place at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, June 15, at Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium. President Cauce will officiate. An audience of about 40,000 family members and friends is expected, and more than 5,500 of the UW’s 2018-19 academic year graduates in Seattle are projected to attend.

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