Long-time NBA Executive Comes Out

The New York Times
has published a terrific piece on long-time National Basketball Association executive and Phoenix Suns President & Chief Executive Officer Rick Welts, who has just now publicly come out as gay. The article delves into the specifics of the 40 years he spent hiding his secret life from those in the league, culminating in his coming out to NBA commissioner David Stern the day before Kobe Bryant's now infamous use of a gay slur.

From the New York Times:

Two years ago, a 14-year relationship ended badly, in part because his partner finally rejected the shadow life that Mr. Welts required. “My high profile in this community, and my need to have him be invisible,” Mr. Welts said, with clear regret. “That ultimately became something we couldn’t overcome.”

He began to think: here he was, in his mid-50s, and maybe he had sacrificed too much; and maybe he should open up about his sexuality, in a way that might help others. He kept a journal, sought advice from his sister and close friends, listed the pros and cons. He also had long talks with his widowed mother, Phyllis, in the months before she died of lung cancer, at 85, last fall. She encouraged him to do what he thought was best.

Read the rest of the article here.


  1. Skep says

    As a 40-year-old with the guts to come out in his 20s, I’m not about to canonize this coward for finally growing a pair.

    Tell us more about his long-suffering, forcibly closeted ex-partner.

  2. daftpunkydavid says

    @ skep: wtf??? enough with the hatred and the bitterness already. he came out, that’s what important. sorry he is not the holy man that you are. so what if it took him this long? he doesn’t owe you anything. geez.

  3. Matt26 says

    @Skep it is not your or my place to tell anyone else when it is right time and place to come out.
    @Bobn I think he doesn’t owe us anything. It is sad enough he felt the need to live in the closet and support values and people who don’t support LGBT.

  4. ohplease says

    He’s rich, white and has more privilege and security than everybody reading this combined will ever have. What exactly was he hiding from? What was ever going to happen to him?

    He’s an idiot and a coward who threw away his life, somehow managed to fail to enjoy being filthy rich, and didn’t do good for himself and his supposed loved ones and, yes, the world at large, for decades.

    Seriously, who the hell comes out in their 50s in 2011, especially when they have absolutely nothing whatsoever to lose? People were openly gay a century ago. Why is this news?

    Another rich white man gets a fanfare — in the New York Times, no less — for doing too little too late while actual LGBT heroes are ignored by the media, our classrooms, and our history books. That’s why this is so offensive. Unless he’s being used as a lesson in abject failure, I don’t want to hear about it, thanks.

  5. bandanajack says

    hey skep, i’m a 67 year old man who came out before you were born, in all probability paying your tab for you, and i can muster up the grace to welcome the straggler home. why don’t you try to find a little insight into what this move is costing him, how incredibly constricted his life has been, and how much good he may yet accomplish.

    my first thought was a head nod and the phrase, little by slowly, which has always meant to me the accumulating momentum of the pebble rolling downhill off the mountain that becomes an unstoppable landslide. the pebble doesn’t get to take all the credit though.

  6. ratbastard says


    ‘He’s rich, white and has more privilege and security than everybody reading this combined will ever have. What exactly was he hiding from? What was ever going to happen to him?

    He’s an idiot and a coward who threw away his life, somehow managed to fail to enjoy being filthy rich, and didn’t do good for himself and his supposed loved ones and, yes, the world at large, for decades.’

    ——— I agree with most of what you wrote. The second part: a lot of people stay ‘closeted’ their entire lives, and older people [who came of age prior to the 70’s I would say] still have a hard time. They grew up in a very different world than the one people who grew up in the 70’s onward grew up in.

    ———- Also, there are PLENTY of ‘successful’ and ‘privileged’ black men and women, ‘Hispanic’ men and women, Asian men and women, who’re ‘closeted’ and similar to Welts.

    ———– You know all white men are not ‘privileged’. And you know there are plenty of ‘privileged’ so-called ‘minorities’, many even not through their own hard work, but because they were born into it, just like there are similar white men and women who fit this description. The idea that me [a white male] am part of some secret club that meets every night when ‘minorities’ are asleep and plots against them is ridiculous. I am no more ‘privileged’ than a ‘minority’ male of similar socio-economic background, probably less because I don’t qualify for any ‘affirmative action’, And I certainly have never gotten a job or into school because I’m a white male… LOL

  7. JonB says

    Wow… talk about holier than thou… some of these comments are absurd. I’m kind of over these queens who sit in judgment of people who may actually provide real advancement towards equality. In every national poll, women support gay rights by a significantly higher percentage then men. The best opportunity to bring our heterosexual counterparts into our court is through the sports world. Here’s a guy who at one point was the third most powerful man in the NBA. He is close friends with the commissioner of the NBA, as well as numerous NBA legends. The truth is, if he had come out 10 or 15 years ago, he may have been shunned from the league. 10 or 15 years ago, tv shows still did “very special episodes” dealing with gays and coming out. Now that he is openly gay and has the ear of one of the most powerful people in the sports world, he can make a huge difference. In any case, he can make a much bigger difference than @OHPLEASE and @SKEP can by sitting in judgment behind their computer screens.

  8. al says

    Seriously?? You haters are totally missing the point that his coming out is a huge deal for professional sports. There are ZERO out athletes currently playing American sports. Having a high level executive come out is big step in the right direction. This might encourage players to come out. This can help reduce the widespread use of homophobic slurs like they aren’t harmful or hurtful. And at the very least, it gets people talking about gays in the sports industry and why there aren’t any out athletes.

  9. Ben in Oakland says

    All of these comments are true. He is both to be praised for coming out and trying to make a difference, and condemned for failing to do it sooner.

    He has paid the price for his silence, as did his former partner. 14 years of living in the closet, denying who you are, losing a significant relationship to fear. none of those are good things.

    And yet, as my late partner said to a friend of his many years ago’ You’re 40 years old and you have a brain. don’t you think it’s time to stop lying to your parents about who you are?

  10. Meijay says

    No wonder it has taken so long for us to achieve equal rights when we can’t even give our own the option to come out in their own time and on their own terms. I came out in my 20s too, but I’m not a out to begrudge someone his own coming out experience. I think we sometimes forget how hard that decision is when we’ve been out for awhile. It has nothing to do with privilege. It’s being comfortable in your own skin.

  11. ratbastard says


    I’ve tried googling any poll that broke down male vs female regarding gay rights, and could only find one recent CNN poll which showed a roughly 10% difference regarding specifically gay marriage.


    as an aside, I came across this accidently while researching gender differences:

    Gallop Poll dated Dec 3, 2008

    Blacks as Conservative as Republicans on Some Moral Issues

    One explanation: Black Democrats are much more religious than nonblack Democrats

    by Frank Newport

    PRINCETON, NJ — Only 31% of black Democrats in America say homosexual relations are morally acceptable, roughly the same as the 30% of Republicans who agree, while very much different from the 61% of nonblack Democrats who say homosexual relations are morally acceptable.


    So it’s safe to say statistically far fewer blacks vs whites accept homosexuality. But many ‘progressives’ try and gloss over this, ignore it, or actively cover it up.

  12. says

    His story is a perfect example of why the closet is so destructive — both to the individual and those he loves. Yes he’s got a lot of money and is a big deal in the world of sports, but the closet has ruined his life. There are lessons to be learned here.

    Still I’d rather read about today’s gay and lesbian teens going to the prom.

  13. Larry says

    They seem to have already known of his sexuality so was this just a man sick of people talking behind his back or does he sincerely want to help others? Supporting republican candidates doesn’t help his case.

  14. Jedi says

    I don’t think a few of the people commenting recognize the significance of Rick Welts’s coming out: he’s a current NBA executive.

    Let me repeat that: Rick Welts is a current NBA executive. That’s NBA, a notoriously homophobic sports league.

    Hopefully this coming out will help to (a) encourage young gay athletes to pursue a career in professional sports without fear of intimidation or rejection and (b) make the NBA and the other three major professional sport leagues in America (MLB, NHL, NFL) more tolerant and understanding.

    Let me end this by giving credit to past and present NBA players like John Amaechi, Grant Hill and Charles Barkley for help making inroads in reducing homophobia in sports.

  15. BobN says

    This is a pretty odd definition of living in the closet. Living together with two partners, each for many years, going out together, with your friends knowing what was going on and just sticking in the closet professionally.

    He didn’t “come out”. He (finally) manned up.

  16. kc says

    I wish someone would delete racist comments like @ohplease’s.

    @jedi — I agree. This guy is not “just” an NBA executive either. He is the PRESIDENT and CEO of a contender NBA team. He created the sport’s All-Star Weekend. It’s a big deal for the future of gay professional athletes and executives, whether the Bitter Bettys want to admit it or not.

  17. Chris says

    I’m disappointed in the negative comments – way to make people who read this and have yet to come out feel bad. We should commend Mr. Welts.

  18. Roger says

    He finally came out. Good for him. In the world he moves and works in, this was a very hard decision as evidenced by Kobe’s remark and the harsh twitter comments from sports figures and insiders the past few weeks.

    What I was most moved by was the reaction of his peers who all basically said: “So what.” That’s the world we all need to live in. A world where coming out means little to nothing. I see this as a almost as big a deal as Gareth Thomas coming out last year.

  19. Frederick says

    Although I came out in my mid-twenties, 30 years ago, we all have our own journeys to follow in life. I commend Rick Welts for finding the courage to finally come out, and I wish him the best of luck. I was a public school teacher, and that was an extremely difficult profession to be out in up until recently (and that’s only in certain large urban areas, even today); I can only imagine how homophobic the professional sports world must still be. My hat’s off to Welts, no matter what other gays might say; face it, it would’ve been far easier for him to just continue to stay in the closet. That old cliche, “Better late than never” definitely applies to his situation!

  20. jj says

    “What little he knew of gay culture was stereotypical, and unappealing, he recalled. ‘In my mind, it was effeminate: a way that I would not define as masculine.”

    gotta get some internalized homophobia in there!

  21. SFNative says

    Possibly the greatest and hardest gesture of love that I can think of is forgiveness, and the sooner we can forgive, the stronger we can become as an LGBT community.

  22. Smartypants says

    My feelings are somewhat mixed. Yes, it would have been nice if he’d come out years ago — mostly for him – but it he had, it is very unlikely he would have achieved the influential position he has now.

    Coming out is such a personal decision. My only serious problem with someone who chooses to stay closeted is if they intentionally hurt other gay people, like closeted politicians who vote against our rights. There is nothing to indicate Welts ever used his position to promote bigotry or hurt gay people. At the same time, we should remember the Suns are the team how came out very strongly against Arizona’s hateful anti-immigration law to the point where they changed their jerseys to read “Los Suns”.

    I say good luck to Welts and the NBA. This is a significant step forward.

  23. Justin L Werner says

    Well, he’s certainly put himself in a tough position, and you don’t build a wall like that in a day. It takes years, with each compromise of your soul adding another brick to the wall. I guess I’m amazed that he found anyone at all, let alone someone who was willing to put with that for 14 years. He’s certainly done some damage to his LGBT brothers and sisters in that time, if only indirectly, but maybe he’ll develop the integrity to do something about that. Too late for his partnership, though. Sad. Very sad.

  24. ANON IN SO CAL says

    Everything else aside, this has to be among the most tortuously written articles, like, ever. Does the NYT always suffer from this “stick-up-yer-ass” kind of overwrought prose? No wonder readership is falling.

  25. says

    As a 59 yr. old gay man, I am dismayed at the small-mindedness of the gay men who post comments here. I feel that one of the side effects of growing up gay in the 1950s was the open-mindedness it instilled in those of us who have witnessed the slow progress in gay history in America. I think some of you younger, judgmental gay men need to do some reading about life and times in the previous century. Your condemnation betrays your ignorance of the world beyond your own.

  26. Liam says

    I came out when I was 20. That was 1975. However, it pleases me that someone like Mr. Welts comes out publicly even if he has very little to actually lose.

  27. says

    @BOBN, He owes us nothing!
    This is the 21 Century, and it’s good news, just very late in coming. I see he started out as a ball boy, I bet he could tell us a few other interesting tidbits,too. I was just reading about this on ESPN site, and the bigots and dummies are putting their 2 cents in comment wise. I’ve been involved in gay politics and sports for over 35 years. I’ve seen great progress, but at a snails pace. For the young people who take their gay rights for granted… we have come a long way, and still have a long way to go. I know that being gay does not make you a better athlete, fan,politician, executive or hairdresser and you should be judged by your full content of character… and not just your sexuality or preference.

  28. jakeinlove says

    What is cowardly are all these people offering an opinion about when they think OTHER people should come out of the closet. Rich, poor, black, white or whatever, people need to make a decision when it’s good for them- not convenient for you.

    As a fellow Phoenician Mr. Welts, congratulations.

  29. Yeek says

    Some people are stronger in some ways than others. My partner took years and years and years to come out, and we almost split up over it. But he finally did it, and I love him for it. In so many other ways, he’s been way ahead of me and patiently waited and encouraged me to become a better person as well. Give this guy a break, and maybe you’ll catch one when you need it down the road.

  30. says

    Facts: He is gay, white, privileged, donated to McCain, hasn’t supported a gay cause, said John Amaechi was a coward because he waited til he retired to come out, knows how to produce a story for selfish reasons, used a PR firm to handle his “coming out”

    Fiction: The so called “shadow”or “shadow life” he speaks of-never heard of it until the article came out. “His partner could no longer stand the secrecy”-what was the secret? I did not live MY life in secrecy, he did! “A 14 yr relationship ended because he wouldn’t go public”-That was never on the table, ultimatums never work! He fabricated these ideas to get the sympathetic vote.

    Everyone(David Stern, other NBA Execs, Execs from other companies for sponsorship,family and friends included)knew he was gay. He lived a full life, he was respected, he excelled in his career based on merit like it should be not by your sexuality. Where is the sadness in that?

  31. says

    Part 2
    He created his own hurdles regarding coming out! I’m not sure why this is even news mostly because he isn’t an athlete he is in the front office handling business affairs. His interaction with players, coaches, trainers aren’t an everyday interaction so I find it difficult to understand why he is a hero, pioneer, brave etc.
    Read the article at Outsports.com: http://outsports.com/jocktalkblog/2011/05/15/rick-welts-phoenix-suns-president-and-ceo-comes-out-as-gay/

    My fellow gay bros and sisters, it’s never too late to change! Despite the fluff story I applaud him for taking the leap. I can only hope he will use this platform to help fight for gay rights. I my reservations but that’s me knowing the person who lied about our breakup and used it to get sympathy without regard to how it will effect me. Our friends and families know the truth. I’d rather stand with Ben Cohen, Wil Sheridan, Hudson Taylor or even Steve Nash because their sacrifices stand for something more than a paycheck.
    We can only wait and watch to see if he is a man of his word. Remember the name Rick Welts.

Leave A Reply