An optimistic Rick Welts enters another agonizing Finals week

He hasn't been a UW student for three decades, but the first week of June is still full of long nights, headaches and tears of joy—or pain.

For Rick Welts, ’75, the first week of June is still Finals week. As a UW student, it was an annual slog toward a bachelor’s degree in communications. As the president and chief of operations of the Golden State Warriors, it’s the biggest stage in professional basketball.

This week marks the third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals for the Warriors, and if you don’t follow the league, just know this: Welts is one of the main reasons that superstars Steph Curry and LeBron James face off each summer.

On Thursday night, Welts and his Warriors will take on James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for a third time. It promises to be a rubber match for the ages—one that might not have happened without Welts.

When he joined the struggling Warriors in 2011, the team won about a third of their games and missed the playoffs (before that, Columns wrote about him when he was in charge of the Phoenix Suns). The Warriors went on to improve each year, and in 2016 they set an NBA record for most wins in a single season.

Yet, the team ultimately fell to the Cavaliers in a game watched by over 30 million people. For Welts and the Warriors, who gave up a 3-1 lead for the first time in NBA history, it was a historic heartbreaker. For James, who brought his home state its first basketball championship? Liberation.

This year the Warriors are undefeated through three rounds of the playoffs, with a 12-0 record. Here’s a closer look at how California’s new favorite basketball team—sorry, Lakers fans!—has fared with Welts at the helm.

2011-12: 23-43, missed playoffs
2012-13: 47-35, lost in the Western Conference semifinals
2013-14: 51-31, lost in the first round of the playoffs
2014-15: 67-15, NBA champions
2015-16: 73-9, lost in the NBA Finals
2016-17: 67-15, playing in the NBA Finals

Follow Welts on Twitter at @rickwelts and tune into the NBA Finals on ABC. We know it’s a touchy subject to cheer for Kevin Durant in Seattle—the former SuperSonic, now on the Warriors, is still persona non grata for many Seattle fans—but we’re rooting for Rick.

Photo: Rick Welts, left, with NBA player Steph Curry and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee (Steve Rhodes / Flickr)