ICM Partners has signed former top NBA team and league executive and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member Rick Welts for public speaking work.
Billy Hallock, ICM Speakers managing director, will lead the team representing Welts, who retired on June 30 from the NBA after 46 years, the last 10 as president and COO of the Golden State Warriors.
RIck Welts retired from his 46-year NBA career on June 30.ICM Partners
“We are in a really important inflection point in the world in general right now and we need great leadership more so than ever before,” Hallock said of ICM Speakers signing Welts. “We need people to understand there are a lot of components to great leadership and that is why it is so exciting for us from a client standpoint because he has done so many things.”
After graduating from the University of Washington, Welts started his career as a ball boy for the Seattle SuperSonics, rising to become head of public relations. He later spent 17 years in the NBA league office and rose to executive vice president and chief marketing officer, where he was instrumental in the creation of NBA All-Star weekend and the launch of the WNBA, among other things. Welts then served as president of the Phoenix Suns before joining the Warriors, where he helped lead the team to three championships and move into the new Chase Center in San Francisco.
“One thing I have loved my whole life is public speaking,” Welts said. He’s done it many times, with the largest audience he’s faced being 40,000 in the University of Washington’s football stadium, where he gave the commencement address in 2019. He also spoke at NBA Commissioner David Stern’s memorial in 2020.
Welts connected with ICM because of another possible future project, he said. “I had been talking to ICM about the possibility of writing a book, which is still a potential future project out there, but that led me to their speakers part of ICM.”
Welts’ personal story is unique. He is not only the first, but remains the only, top male sports executive to publicly acknowledge that he is gay, doing so in a New York Times story in 2011.
“I guess at some point you know what it’s going to say in your obituary,” Welts joked, in a telephone interview with Sports Business Journal. “In sports, I am a little surprised that, to date, no one else in a role like mine has taken that step in any of the men’s leagues. I thought that that would happen. It hasn’t.”
But he added that he does think leagues and sports as a whole have made “tremendous progress” on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts for LBGTQ people, as well as women and people of color. As an openly gay man, he was able to participate in the NBA Pride events and was instrumental in moving the All-Star Game out of Charlotte in 2017 because of the so-called “bathroom bill” which invalidated local anti-discrimination protections for LBGTQ people.
“I was able to look at the owners and say, ‘You know, I want you to know I am in touch with people at your teams who reached out to me who are in the same situation that I am in. … And they are going to be watching what you decide to do here.’” The NBA later moved the All-Star Game back to Charlotte in 2019 after the law was changed.
By signing with ICM, Welts will be able to share his experiences with corporations, trade organizations, colleges and universities, and other groups.
“When you have had success with very well-known brands over the course of your career, other companies want to hear what you have to say; they want to hear the recipe; they want to understand the thought process,” Hallock said. “The best companies realize the best way to reach the highest heights isn’t to pretend you know everything, it’s to talk to, learn from and absorb knowledge from those who have also been successful in other areas. ... Sports is a very big business. There is no question that the growth of the NBA, the success that the Golden State Warriors came to realize under Rick’s leadership, all of those things are noteworthy.”
Creative Artists Agency has signed a definitive agreement to acquire ICM Partners, pending regulatory approvals. When that deal is finalized, Welts is expected to become a client of CAA, which has a large speakers division.
■ RXR SIGNS ROCK CLIMBER: RXR Sports, an agency specializing in outdoor, adventure and endurance sports, has signed world champion rock climber Natalia Grossman for representation. RXR Sports founder Jonathan Retseck and partner Ben Ende are representing Grossman. She was previously unrepresented.
New York-based RXR Sports was founded in 2013 and represents about 15 athletes in the sports of rock climbing, mountain biking, skiing, running and ocean rowing. RXR Sports client Alex Honnold was the subject of the 2019 Academy Award-winning documentary “Free Solo.”
Grossman, 20, is a student at the University of Colorado-Boulder and won the gold medal for bouldering at the International Federation of Sport Climbing World Championships in September. She is pointed to the Paris 2024 Olympics and her existing sponsors are Adidas Five Ten for footwear and Black Diamond Equipment.
“We’ve seen an influx of brands looking to access the climbing industry given its recent explosive growth, so we see great potential to develop partnerships for Natalia in categories like fitness, performance nutrition and lifestyle,” Retseck said.
Liz Mullen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.