The first impressions keep coming, bold and dramatic, on a scale beyond anything the Bay Area sports market has experienced.

The New Warriors made another resounding statement Tuesday, introducing Rick Welts as their president and chief operating officer less than three weeks after he resigned a similar position with the Phoenix Suns.

Hiring Welts won't win a single game for the Warriors, but it's an impressive and intriguing move -- and another landmark victory for the new owners of the franchise.

For Welts, 58, is distinguished as much by his sexuality as his work. He is gay. His public acknowledgment of this in May, while still an active employee, makes him unique in the NBA and exceedingly rare as a high-profile member of a male team sports enterprise.

That he was welcomed by Warriors managing partners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, who surely realize the potential benefits of having Welts in the socially conscious Bay Area, provides the latest peek at their goals for the long-slumbering organization.

They dumped Don Nelson, the league's all-time winningest coach whose focus had diminished, two months before receiving final ownership approval last November.

One month after the 2010-11 season ended, they lured legendary Jerry West, conceivably the league's most respected architect, to Oakland as an executive board member.

In June, three weeks after hiring West, Lacob and Guber, who already had dismissed coach Keith Smart after a one-year trial, made the daring decision to replace him with Mark Jackson, a former player with palpable presence and hoops credibility -- but not a minute of actual coaching experience.


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Now they're adding Welts, who over 36 years in the NBA has earned an impeccable reputation for creativity and results -- and, by coming out of the closet, courage.

"For the first time in my life," Welts said Tuesday, "I have the opportunity to align my personal life with my professional life."

Welts, who left Phoenix to be closer to his partner in the Sacramento area, spent decades concealing his private life. He didn't know how the truth would play, and he was afraid to find out. Not long after a 14-year relationship dissolved, at least partly because of his partner's unwillingness to continue hiding, he decided he might better live with himself if he was true to himself.

He sought advice from his mother, Phyllis, then 85, before she died last fall. He sat in Bill Russell's Seattle-area living room, discussing the issue with the legend he's known since the 1970s, when Russell was coaching the Sonics and Welts was a public relations assistant. He consulted with Suns star Steve Nash and league commissioner David Stern, whom he grew to know during the 17 years (1982-99) he spent in the NBA's New York office. All were supportive, encouraging.

Hey, if this were simple, someone such as John Amaechi, who came out after he retired, would have done it years earlier.

Welts went public to simplify his life, advance discussion, perhaps even open doors.

"I can't tell you about anything negative," he said of the response, "because nothing negative has happened.

"I do feel some obligation, at this stage of my life, to take that platform and do something positive."

In the months since his revelation, Welts has received numerous job offers. He chose the Warriors because they were convenient and relentless. Months of research led Lacob and Guber to conclude Welts was one of the best business-side executives in the league. They couldn't hire him, though, because he worked for the Suns.

"We were looking for a person who was ambidextrous," Guber said, referring to the ability to equally manage team and league interests. "We also wanted someone who wasn't risk-averse, someone who will take chances.

"We understand where we are. This is very different than Charlotte or Memphis or even Miami. It's a special place, with great weather and beauty and diversity."

A little more than a week after leaving Phoenix, Welts visited Lacob's home in Atherton. They spent most of the day getting to know each other and talking the basketball business.

"Whether he's straight or gay is irrelevant,'' Lacob said. "I wanted the best person. All I care about is winning, and he is simply the single best executive we could have hired for this job."

Lacob and Guber could not be clearer in their intentions. They are, based on early appearances, dynamic and aggressive in pursuing excellence, with little tolerance for misplaced priorities or office politics or petty prejudices.

They may have, at $450 million, overpaid for the Warriors. They may overpay some of their new executives. Bay Area fans may need time to grasp these concepts.

Lacob and Guber have yet to preside over a full 82-game season, and likely won't until 2012-13. Meanwhile, they're doing all they can to win everything else.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.