Rick Welts, the president and chief executive of US basketball team Phoenix Suns, has come out.

He made the announcement in a newspaper interview this weekend.

The 58-year-old, who has been involved in basketball for more than 40 years, said he wanted to break down one of the last social barriers in sport.

Before coming out to the New York Times, Welts spoke to NBA commissioner David Stern, WNBA president Val Ackerman and players Bill Russell and Steve Nash.

He told the newspaper: “This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits. Nobody’s comfortable in engaging in a conversation.”

Welts, who began his career as a ballboy, was out only to his parents and sister. His longterm partner Arnie died of complications of AIDS in 1994.

Stern said he sensed that Welts was gay but felt unable to broach the subject, even when Welts called him in tears after Arnie’s death.

Speaking about last month’s meeting, when Welts came out, Stern said: “What I didn’t say at the time was: I think there’s a good chance the world will find this unremarkable. I don’t know if I was confusing my thoughts with my hopes.”

Nash, who said he thought everyone knew Welts was gay, said: “Anyone who’s not ready for this needs to catch up. … He’s doing anyone who’s not ready for this a favour.”

Welts says he plans to encourage others to be open about their sexuality, especially young people in sports.