rickwelts01.jpg
Rick Welts was still in high school when he joined the Seattle SuperSonics at only 16 years old--as a ballboy. Today he's the president of

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Rick Welts, Phoenix Suns President and Ex-Sonics Exec, Comes Out of Closet and Into Spotlight, Hoping to Cure NBA's Homophobia

rickwelts01.jpg
Rick Welts was still in high school when he joined the Seattle SuperSonics at only 16 years old--as a ballboy. Today he's the president of the Phoenix Suns, having ridden a volcanic career through the NBA, including stints as the Sonics' public-relations director and the Chief Executive of NBA Properties, only two steps down from league commissioner David Stern.

He's also gay. But until Sunday, only a few of his closest friends had ever heard him admit it.

Welts, as he tells The New York Times, is coming out in an effort to challenge the NBA's macho-masculine status quo and to offer support for other gay athletes and sports executives who are wrestling with similar decisions.

"This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits," said Mr. Welts, who stands now as a true rarity, a man prominently employed in professional men's team sports, willing to declare his homosexuality. "Nobody's comfortable in engaging in a conversation."

The clean-cut 58-year-old had that conversation with the Times one day before Kobe Bryant called a ref a "fucking faggot" during a playoff game.

The interview also came several days after Welts delivered the same news to Sonics legend Bill Russell in Seattle.

Welts had kept his sexuality secret through two long-term relationships--one that ended when his partner succumbed to AIDS, another that fizzled after 14 frustrating years of living a "shadow life."

It's unclear if Welts' decision to step out of the shadow and into the spotlight will have its intended consequences of making the league a less oppressive place to be gay. But even if coming out only helps make one life easier--Welts' own--one has to concede that it was well worth the effort.

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