SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Golden State Warriors President and Chief Operation Officer Rick Welts, who helped guide the team from the NBA backwater to a championship franchise with worldwide appeal, has announced he is stepping down at the end of the 2020-2021 season.

Welts, who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018, has been with the Warriors since 2011 and has spent 46 years in the NBA, including roles with the Seattle Supersonics, Phoenix Suns, and the NBA league office.

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The Warriors said Welts would remain associated with the team as an advisor and that a new president would be named within the next week.

Warriors president and COO Rick Welts (Gabrielle Lurie/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

“This has been the ride of a lifetime,” said Welts in a prepared statement. “To have had a front row seat to the growth of the NBA from where it was in the late 1960s to its place today as one of the most respected and successful leagues in sports on a global stage has been an incredible privilege. The first day I met Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, I wanted to be a part of building what I knew could be a special organization. We have the most talented staff in the industry, and we are poised for even greater success in the future. Personally, I am excited for my own next chapter.”

Under Welts’ direction, the Warriors emerged from perennial league bottom-feeders to a dynasty, with five consecutive appearances in the NBA Finals and three NBA championships (2015, 2017, 2018).  The success allowed the team’s brand to grow in stature and the value of the franchise has skyrocketed, now ranked by Forbes as the fifth most valuable in the world at $4.3 billion dollars.

During Welts’ tenure, the Warriors organization was named “Franchise of the Decade” among all professional sports teams by Sports Business Journal in 2019 and became the first professional team to win Sports Business Journal’s “Sports Team of the Year” award on multiple occasions (2014 and 2016).

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Welts also oversaw the completion of the Chase Center, the Warriors arena in San Francisco which opened in September 2019. In 2020, Chase Center was named Sports Facility of the Year by Sports Business Journal and has received numerous distinctions and industry awards.

“I’ll never forget the day we introduced Rick to the media as our President in 2011,” said Joe Lacob, Warriors Co-Executive Chairman and CEO in a prepared statement. “On that day, he noted the Warriors franchise was always viewed as a sleeping giant that could be very successful if it ever got into the right hands. Well, there were no better hands than those of Rick Welts, and his intuition proved to be spot-on as his leadership, vision, creativity and relationship-building enabled us to reach heights never seen before in the NBA on the business side. We thank him for his incredible contributions to our franchise and, more importantly, the class and character with which he represented our organization each day.”

“Much like a movie needs a well-placed and perfectly-aligned star to make it successful, you need to find the right person to lead an organization to prominence,” said Peter Guber, Warriors Co-Executive Chairman in a prepared statement. “Fortunately, we found that 10 years ago in Rick Welts. His hiring was one of the most important decisions Joe and I have made since purchasing the Warriors. The ability he demonstrated to navigate any situation with precision and grace—from building a new arena to dealing with a pandemic—is unparalleled. He wrote an incredible script and played the role to perfection. We will be indebted to him forever.”

“When Joe, Peter and I agreed on the timing of this announcement two years ago, we didn’t have a pandemic on our radar screen,” said Welts. “As it turns out, now that we can look forward to welcoming fans back safely to Chase Center, and we have a realistic hope for a return to ‘business as usual’ for next season, this timing feels perfect.”

In 2011, Welts became the highest-ranking executive in men’s professional team sports to publicly acknowledge he was gay.

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“Simply put, Rick Welts played a transformational role in creating the modern NBA during his more than 40 years as a pioneering league and team executive,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “His extraordinary vision, leadership and humanity have defined his Hall of Fame career, which has set the standard of excellence in the sports industry. I had the tremendous good fortune to learn about the business of the NBA and its teams directly from Rick in my early years at the league office and have always appreciated his friendship and generosity. As he transitions into his next endeavor, I have no doubt that Rick will continue to leave his mark on the game and the greater sports business.”