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Jock Talk: A heartfelt Warriors Pride Night

by Roger Brigham

An hour or so before the Golden State Warriors held only the second LGBT Night in its history, Rick Welts, the Warriors president who was the first major NBA team executive ever to come out, shook my hand as he walked into an interview room in the cavernous bowels of Oracle Arena and said, "Great to see you again, Roger. What's it been - five days?"

Actually it had been exactly one week before that we'd seen each other, when he was the moderator for a presentation by NBA legend, successful businessman, and HIV-positive megafundraiser Magic Johnson at the University of San Francisco, in which Johnson emphasized the importance of working for the things your heart tells you to do and have faith financial rewards will follow. Which made our seeing each other at the Warriors LGBT event all the more appropriate.

There are times when an event, such as an LGBT Night, is held and everything is nice, the hosts feel proud for doing a good thing, and organizers pat themselves on the back - but you still end up wondering how much heart really went in to it, what the corporate motive was.

Happily, this was not one of those events.

Coach Steve Kerr, a longtime advocate for equal rights and a critic of Trump administration positions on immigration and gay rights, prefaced his pregame news conference, which he referred to as "an important night," by saying, "I'm proud to be part of an organization and to live in a region, an area, that really embraces diversity. There's never been a more important time in our country to respect the person next to you regardless of their race, creed, color, sexual preference, sexual identity."

You know what I like about that? The fact that he used the phrase "sexual preference" instead of the more accurate phrase "sexual orientation" means that he was speaking from his heart rather than from a carefully crafted marketing statement - yet his inclusion of "sexual identity" means he is giving more than cursory consideration to this issue.

"It seems like our young generation is learning more and more about how we're all just who we are, and what makes our country great is our diversity," Kerr said. "The fact that we can respect each other and work together and embrace each other, I think it's an important night for us and we want to welcome everybody from the LGBTQ community."

At the start of the third quarter that night, the Warriors' Mezzeti "Kiss Cam" focused on a few different couples kissing, and arbitrarily rated the passion shown during their on-camera kisses. One lesbian couple was included.

Despite the mild creepiness of vicariously rating how hot someone's intimate expression of affection is, it was nice to see the inclusion.

There have been times when same-sex kissing, as has happened with other kiss cams, and as happened when Matthew Mitcham kissed his boyfriend after winning the Olympic gold medal in diving and when Michael Sam was drafted by the NFL, that some folks in the audience have complained that children would be confused by what they were seeing.

For them, Kerr had an answer.

"Maybe if you're coming to the game tonight and your child says, "What does that mean,' explain it to them," Kerr said. "Explain the importance of loving the person next to you and respecting them no matter who they are, where they come from. They're human beings, we're all human beings, and we're all in this together."

Seeing Welts the week before reminded me about what a marvel he has been since bursting on the national consciousness a few years back before joining the Warriors. He had fallen in love with the sport when he was a kid, had risen to the kind of executive position he wanted in the sport in Phoenix, and then put it all on the line by coming out in a feature story in the New York Times.

I asked him when the moment was that he had felt safe, when he believed coming out publicly probably would not cost him his job and his future.

"Probably five minutes after the interview came out," Welts said. "Probably about the time I walked in to the office and said, 'What's up?' to everyone."

And now what's up for him is a top-dog role in the most entertaining and beautifully constructed franchise in the sport. Haters hate the Warriors because they are jealous of just how good they are, and fans love them because whether they win or lose, they play a beautiful selfless version of the sport we witness all too seldom.

After winning two of the last three NBA team championships, the Warriors are locked and loaded to dominate the league for years to come. Currently they are working out early season kinks and overcoming sporadic bouts of bad passing, turnovers, and failure to box out opponents for rebounds. Sometimes they come roaring back and fall short, and sometimes, such as last week in the game against the Toronto Raptors, they came roaring back, fall behind again, and come through in the end, winning 117-112.

But they do not break down in jealousy, and they are not divided by petty self-interest. They are players of vastly different job skills and talents, working together and sharing the joy of their efforts.

Not a bad team to host a Pride Night.

A video of the opening of Kerr's press conference is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbM6zlyfYAk .

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