OAKLAND – The MVP chants made it difficult for Warriors president Rick Welts to hear. Thats okay. The background noise helped illustrate Welts point.
Just before the Warriors took the stage for their championship parade in downtown Oakland, Warriors fans greeted Kevin Durant with MVP chants for obvious reasons. He collected an NBA title and a Finals MVP for a second consecutive year after joining the Warriors as a free agent in the 2016 offseason.
Safe to say 29 other NBA teams do not like the Warriors have hoisted the Larry OBrien trophy for the third time in four years. Nor do they like that Durant has teamed with three other All-Stars (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green), and could win wear even more rings. But to say this success is bad for the NBA? The MVP chants for Durant in downtown Oakland as well as during a pre-season trip to China proved otherwise.
Were seeing basketball being played differently at a different level than we ever have before. We all should be celebrating that, Welts told The Bay Area News Group. I know and understand 29 other teams may not feel exactly the same way. But for basketball fans, this is another golden era.
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Welts has a subjective viewpoint, obviously. He has served as the Warriors president and chief operating officer for the past seven years. He also has overseen the development of the privately financed Chase Center, which would likely benefit with star power and winning when the arena opens in Mission Bay for the 2019-20 season. Yet, Welts also has perspective on what dynasties do to the NBAs bottom line after working in the leagues office (1982-1999).
Its going to impact the next generation in terms of being fans of basketball and the NBA, Welts said of the Warriors success. Theres a bigger mission here than winning a championship. This team is really impacting the future of basketball.
Welts then reflected on his own career arc throughout various stops in the NBA.
He first began his NBA career as a ballboy at 16 years old for the former Seattle Supersonics and then as the teams director of public relations during consecutive NBA Finals appearances (1978-79) and the teams lone NBA title run (1979). The reason for Welts interest in the NBA? It started with the Lakers-Celtics meeting countlessly in the NBA Finals (1959, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969).
The biggest thrill was to see Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain come in and have a glimpse at the greatness. This notion that there were too many Boston-LA series? That to me is unfathomable, Welts said, chuckling. Anybody whos in the sport celebrates greatness. Thats what were all about.
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When Welts joined the NBAs league office in 1982, he eventually became the leagues third-ranking official as the executive vice president, chief marketing officer and president of NBA properties. Through those roles, Welts saw how star personalities and dominant teams spurred the leagues success.
Welts essentially invented NBA All-Star weekend in 1984, which complemented the actual game with the Slam Dunk contest, a 3-point shootout and various marketing events. Welts also oversaw USA Basketballs marketing program for the 1992 Olympic Dream Team.
Those events became popular partly because Magic Johnsons Showtime Lakers and Larry Birds Celtics won eight of the 10 NBA championships in the 1980s, including in three head-to-head Finals matchups. After the Dream Team won gold in Madrid, Michael Jordans Chicago Bulls spurred the NBAs growth with six NBA championships in eight years.
It brings new people to the sport. Magic and Bird brought a whole generation of people to the sport that had not been there before. Michael elevated it to a completely different place, Welts said. The Miami teams and San Antonio did that too. But theres something that strikes a core and style of this team. Rarely do I have a day go by where a woman comes up to me and says, I never watched NBA basketball until the Golden State Warriors. Or a guy says My girlfriend or my significant other or my wife, I could never get her interested. Now shes the one dragging me to the TV, too.
Welts saw and heard similar stories during the Warriors pre-season trip to China last October. With the Warriors playing preseason games against Minnesota in Shenzhen and Shanghai, Welts saw how the Warriors were that team that every basketball fan in China celebrates.
Fans stood out of the Warriors team hotel in both cities at all hours. They flooded clinics and games with Warriors jerseys. They presented memorabilia and hand-made artwork for players to sign. That marked a hefty contrast to what Welts considered the total disconnect from what we experienced before when the Warriors played the Los Angeles Lakers in Beijing and Shanghai during the 2013 preseason. Then, Welts saw former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant as 100 times bigger than the Golden State Warriors despite appearing at pre-season games in street clothes amid rehabbing a torn left Achilles tendon.
The Warriors led the leagues Chinese market last season in jersey sales, digital viewers per game (4.1 million) and followers on the Chinese social media account, Weibo (3.8 million). Forbes also valued the Warriors at $3.1 billion, the third-highest in the NBA behind the Lakers and New York Knicks.
Although the ratings for this years NBA Finals on ABC marked a 12 percent dropoff in ratings compared to last years Warriors-Cavs series, the Warriors-Cavs previously yielded the leagues highest ratings for three consecutive years since ABC televised the Finals 2003. Overall, it became the most-watched Finals series since the Bulls-Jazz matchup in 1998 during Jordans final season in Chicago.
And the Warriors success may continue. That left Welts with a difficult question to answer. He may know in definitive terms that the Warriors success helps the NBA. He does not know, though, what the franchises long-lasting impact will be.
Impossible to have that perspective today. But Im optimistic that this team will be remembered the same way as those great Boston teams and the Laker teams, Welts said. We havent written the end of the story. So we dont know how its going to end. But the opportunity is there.
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