Monday, May 16, 2011

Roundball Revelation

This morning I leaned over to pick up my copy of The Seattle Times and the first thing I saw, in huge letters, was "I'm gay."

I'd like every day to start this way.

Next to those words at the top of the front page sat a guy I didn't recognize holding a basketball. The teaser read, "Rick Welts, who rose from (Seattle) Sonics ball boy to president of the Phoenix Suns, targets a taboo in men's team sports."

Oh my God. The president of an NBA team. There was nobody around so I high-fived the fence.

Rick Welts has taken the step no active player has. He now joins the one former player to come out, John Amaechi in 2007, as gay guys with guts. I think we're closer to the day when an active men's professional basketball player will come out, thanks to Welts and Amaechi.

As an aside, I vote for that player to come from Portland, because then he'd be a trailblazing Trail Blazer.

The story in The Seattle Times, actually a New York Times piece, explained how Welts, 58, met with David Stern, commissioner of the NBA, to declare he was gay. "His eyes welling at times, he also said that he planned to go public."

Stern, who already knew Welts was gay, promised his support, the men hugged, and the next day Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant called a referee a "faggot." The basketball gods have exquisite timing.

Speaking of timing, we're currently deep in the NBA playoffs, so it's hard to say how much media attention the coming out will get. Welts could be pushed out of the sports pages in favor of a story about LeBron James' favorite shoelaces.

The president of the Phoenix Suns came out, summed up my newspaper, because "he wants to pierce the silence that envelops the subject of homosexuality in men's team sports. He wants to be a mentor to gay people who harbor doubts about a sports career, whether on the court or in the front office. Most of all, he wants to feel whole, authentic."

If I were keeping the stats, I'd credit Welts with 40,000 assists and one slam-dunk.