Welts is here for basketball purposes

September 27, 2011, 5:22 pm
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The only way this Rick Welts thing works at all is if the one thing that makes his appointment as the Warriors new president newsworthy is the one thing that never gets mentioned after today.

Welts is gay. He came out in May, while still the president and chief operations officer of the Phoenix Suns, and left the job a month ago to be closer to his partner, who has joint custody of two children in Sacramento.

Now hes been hired to replace Robert Rowell with the Warriors. I will leave it to you to decide among yourselves where the bar goes on this clearance attempt.

All I know is this: he was the Suns guy for nine years before his sexuality was an issue, in a state not famous for his openmindedness on the subject. In that time, he did fine by all analyses. As you knew he would based on the years of experience he had as the No. 3 man in the NBA office before that, and before that in Seattle with the SuperSonics.

Thus, it cannot matter now that he is gay now that he is here. It cannot be a triumph or a failure or a matter of public discourse. Hes the new Bobby Rowell, and on that alone he must be judged.

Welts came from one of the leagues most stable franchises, although the Suns have struggled to fill their building more in recent times as the economy and the teams indifferent results have conspired to make it not a great time out.

He has also worked through the end of the Jerry Colangelo era and the last seven years for an owner in Bob Sarver who doesnt mind being noticed. That last part wont be a major change, then. Joe Lacob and Peter Guber were both in attendance for the Welts presser, which would under normal circumstances would have merited a press release alone.

But Welts did come out, and he has been a player on the leagues corporate side, and there is a lockout, and there is much to do to rebuild the Warrior brand. And all but the first are what matters for purposes of this discussion, and what he hopes is most discussions to follow.

After all, he did not come to the Warriors because he is gay, but because he is an NBA guy with NBA tracks all over him.

He was the guy, after all, to land the first corporate account in league history Gatorade. Any other questions about his corporate bonafides?

No, he should and will be defined here only for basketball purposes, and in large part that means being defined by his predecessor.

Rowell was the bad cop to Chris Cohans invisible cop, and as such became a target of ire for fans who hated the entire regime for its incompetence, sloth and generally unwarranted smugness. That Rowell was always doing Cohans bidding was clear; that he relished it was also clear. But that he was the one who was visible made it all the worse for him.

Welts wont have that issue, at least not so we can tell. Lacob is as spectacularly public as Cohan was persistently hologrammatic, so Welts wont feel the full sting of being the public bad cop. In fact, if he wants to slap some charm on the office walls to brighten the job profile, nobody would either prevent or begrudge him.

Well be frank here and admit that a new president and COO isnt a particularly sexy announcement, especially when the owner is the one who will the front man for himself. Even Welts as the highest ranking openly gay person in American professional sport is but a novelty; Corny Littman, president of the German soccer club FC St. Pauli is also openly gay, but his team is as counterculture as a sports franchise can possibly get. The Suns have always been a very buttoned down operation even in the Charles Barkley years, and the Warriors arent exactly bold innovators either.

What they are is a team with little success over the past three and a half decades, a loyal but slowly receding fan base that wishes to see actual results rather than pizza delivery men on rollerblades.

Toward that end, Rick Welts is far less important than, say, David Lee. But he is more important than many others, if in fact he will be given real responsibilities that help impact the day-to-day running of the franchise. Put another way, he will be as important as Lacob allows him to be, and he will be as successful as his personality and the on-floor product will permit.

In short, he isnt Bobby Rowell, for good or ill. What he will be remains to be seen. And the sooner he is viewed in a Warriors context rather than a gay executive context, the better we suspect he will like it.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com