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Jason Collins' signing pleases Rick Welts, NBA's first openly gay exec

Warriors President and Chief of Operations Rick Welts

Warriors President and Chief of Operations Rick Welts before Game 3 of a Western Conference semifinal NBA playoff series against the Spurs in Oakland, Calif., Friday, May 10, 2013. Credit: AP Photo / Jeff Chiu

LOS ANGELES - Rick Welts couldn't be more pleased to see Jason Collins back in the league and embarking on a trailblazing moment.

Welts, the Warriors' president, became the first openly gay NBA executive when he revealed his sexuality in an article when he was with the Suns in 2011. So if anyone can appreciate what Collins is going through, it's Welts. That's why he made sure to shoot Collins a text that he apparently received while on his way to sign his 10-day contract with the Nets.

"I'm very happy for Jason and I'm so proud of our league and the Nets,'' Welts told Newsday on Sunday in an exclusive phone interview. "Going back to last night, I had talked to a few people on the Nets' staff and it certainly [seemed] like things could be headed in this direction. But until it was done, you are never quite sure, and I actually got an email from the commissioner [Adam Silver] this morning. He wanted to give me a heads-up that it was going to happen, and I am thrilled for everyone involved.''

Collins' signing evoked positive emotions within Welts, but he also can't wait for the day when there's no hoopla surrounding a gay male athlete, as there is with NFL draft prospect Michael Sam.

"I've been trying to think of how to sum up how I feel about this,'' Welts said. "I think it's a big step toward being regarded as totally unremarkable, which is exactly what it should be and what I would wish for. It's a big deal . . . But really it's a big step toward nobody caring, you know?

"The Nets had a basketball need [for a big man] . . . Jason is a fit, not only because of what they probably view on the court, but his character. And I think it's just a really proud day for the league.''

Still, part of Welts wasn't quite sure if anyone would ever get this opportunity. Collins hadn't gotten any true chances since announcing last April that he is gay.

"I don't think any of us knew,'' Welts said. "I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy. So I certainly wanted to give the benefit of the doubt that the set of circumstances could come together to make today possible. But the right guy, the right team, the right time. As I said, it's a really proud day for the league.''

As for those who believe this is a gimmick or marketing ploy by the Nets, Welts scoffed.

"It would bother me if it's true,'' Welts said. "But I don't believe it's true. I talked to some people around the Nets yesterday. Jason [Kidd] felt like this would be a really good basketball move for his team. He knows Jason, obviously. They played together. So I think the decision was made for all the right reasons, and anyone who's trying to cast it any other way is probably a little short on their facts.''


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