And the winner of the lockout news cycle award goes to…
The Golden State Warriors.
With all due respect to the National Basketball Players Association folks who have led the league’s players to a PR victory over the owners on the labor front, no organization has captured all the right kinds of headlines during the work stoppage like those boys by the Bay. It’s quite a feat considering the changed set of rules in this media game, as team officials could no longer discuss their own players and thus were relegated to spreading the good word on the ownership, front office and coaching fronts.
There was plenty of that for the Warriors.
But while there were rave reviews given to owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber for the additions of former agent Bob Myers as assistant general manager, the legendary Jerry West as consultant, the compelling Mark Jackson as coach, the well-respected Michael Malone as his lead assistant, and the popular subtraction of scorned team president Robert Rowell, none of those moves resonated outside of the sports world like the latest hiring of Rick Welts. In case you somehow haven’t heard, Golden State’s new chief operating officer and team president is gay.
The 58-year-old former NBA executive and Phoenix Suns team president and CEO was probably right when he said on Tuesday that “nobody gives a crap for the most part” about his sexuality, but it’s that last little qualifier that makes this hire matter. Homophobia still has a roster spot on most professional sports teams, even in this region that is so progressive when it comes to this issue. It still persists in certain factions of the media too, with sensitivities often sacrificed in exchange for ignorance and idiocy.
Welts, who came out by way of a mid-May story in the New York Times and left his Suns post in early September so he could be closer to his partner in Northern California, is no run-of-the-mill business boob either. Some of his closest friends and advocates are NBA titans, from commissioner David Stern to Bill Russell, Steve Nash and – by the looks of their friendly exchange at the Golden State practice facility on Tuesday – Warriors great Al Attles.
By the end of his 17-year run in the league office, Welts – who was once a ballboy for the Sonics in his hometown of Seattle and later worked for the team’s public relations department – was third on the NBA totem pole of power as executive vice president, chief marketing officer and president of N.B.A. Properties. He was widely seen as the creator of the wildly-successful All-Star weekend and played a significant role in the creation of the WNBA. He headed for Phoenix in 2002, and success followed once again with the franchise that brands its basketball team as well as any other.
All of which is a long way of saying that Welts has the respect of the game’s best business and basketball minds. And that, as he well knows, certainly can’t hurt his cause or the one he‘s now publicly fighting for.
“You know, I think nobody gives a crap for the most part,” Welts had said during his introductory press conference in Oakland. “(But) I think, for whatever reason in men’s team sports, we just have a hard time discussing (homosexuality). And I think the more we talk about it, the more comfortable we can be with it and the less threatening or at least scary it seems to those who are on any side of the issue.
“The whole object of what I’ve gone through this year was to try to elevate both the quantity and quality of the discussion, just so we’re not afraid of the topic.”
That would be the best news of all.
CURRY READY FOR HIS RETURN
No one wants to get back to work on the floor more than Stephen Curry.
The third-year point guard had right ankle surgery in late May after a second season in which his bad wheel was a consistent problem. His production was up from his runner-up Rookie of the Year campaign and the Warriors improved by 10 games (26 to 36 wins), but Curry missed two weeks in December and was never fully healthy even when he was playing. But after a grueling summer of rehabilitation, he’s back and ready to return to form.
“I left at the end of the season not really having surgery in mind,” Curry explained last week at his charity golf tournament in San Francisco. “I went to see a specialist in Maryland about some rehab exercises I could do to get my ankle stronger. When I went to see him, he told me that I’d torn two ligaments in my ankle, that surgery was going to be necessary eventually, that I probably could play on it but that surgery would fix it.
“Then the last three months, every (week) day, it’s been three hours a day on top of other workouts, making sure my ankle was getting back to where it’s supposed to be. Knowing how much work it took to get it where it is now, I want to capitalize on that for sure (next season)…It was tough mentally for sure, seeing guys do summer league circuits in different cities, watching those and wanting to be out there playing. I missed all that but kept the big picture in mind.”
While Curry said he isn’t considering playing internationally, he took part in the Warriors unofficial training camp in Las Vegas in early September and there are plans to hold a second session soon.
THOMPSON REVAMPS HIS GAME
Klay Thompson could always shoot. Now he wants to slash, too.
The former Washington guard who was taken 11th overall by the Warriors has gone to great lengths to improve his athleticism this summer as part of a two-fold strategy to get his game ready for the NBA. Thompson, who was neck-and-neck with Jimmer Fredette when it came to the best shooters in this year’s draft, is well aware that improving his ability to finish at the rim will make him that much harder to defend while giving him more space for his outside game as well.
To that end, he has followed the path of his younger brother and minor league baseball player, Trayce, by going to the Sports Science Lab in San Juan Capistrano four days a week. The results, Thompson reports, have been impressive.
“It’s all plyometrics and isometric work – some fancy science stuff,” said Thompson, who does his basketball work in Los Angeles. “It’s to improve my first step and quickness. I’ve already gained three inches on my vertical (leap). It was 29 at the (Chicago predraft) combine (in May) and is now 32. I’m trying to get it to at least 35. If I can do that, I think it’ll help my game out so much.
“There’s so many athletes in the NBA, so many shotblockers, that it’s a whole different level as far as finishing at the rim. I’ve just got to get crafty and get used to using my length and athleticism to diversify my game.”