Bob Walsh was an entrepreneur and humanitarian who brought 13 major national sporting events to Seattle, including NCAA tournament men's and women's basketball Final Fours and the 1987 NBA All-Star Game.
Bob Walsh, the Seattle SuperSonics front office executive who brought big-time sporting events to Seattle, including the 1990 Goodwill Games, has died.
He contracted a respiratory infection last week while traveling in Tbilisi, Georgia, and was transferred to a hospital in Istanbul, Turkey, where he passed away, said Rick Welts, president and chief operating officer of the Golden State Warriors.
Walsh, who lived in West Seattle, was 76.
Born in Sept. 20, 1940 in Winthrop, Mass, Walsh was an entrepreneur and humanitarian who believed sports could influence and improve international relations. His motto: “Ordinary people can do extraordinary things.”
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When the Sonics hired Bill Russell in 1973 as Sonics coach and general manager, he brought Walsh with him to Seattle as assistant general manager. At the time, Walsh, who got his start as a radio and television producer in the 1960s in West Virginia, Boston and Hollywood, was offered a job as executive producer of ‘Good Morning America.’
He chose the Sonics and has been instrumental in Seattle’s sports scene for more than four decades.
“Bad decision? I’ll never know, but things worked out fine,” Walsh wrote in 2014. “My wallet would have been better off with GMA, that’s for sure!”
Walsh spent three years with the Sonics while acquiring players such as Slick Watts helping the franchise to its first playoff appearance in 1975. Walsh left the team after the 1975-76 season and the Sonics won the NBA title three years later in 1979.
Still, his biggest impact on Seattle was a promoter who brought 13 major national sporting events to the city, including three NCAA tournament men’s basketball Final Fours (1984, 1989 and 1995); two NCAA women’s basketball Final Fours (1988 and 1989), the 1987 NBA All-Star Game and the 1990 Goodwill Games.
Walsh has been credited by the NCAA for coining the “March Madness” moniker in 1984 when he led the Seattle organizing committee.
“Bob’s a promoter,” Jack Kelly, TBS president of the Goodwill Games said in a 1991 Seattle Times story. “People use that as a negative term, but Bob is a guy who can put one and one together and come up with an event that people decide is worthwhile. If a city doesn’t have people like Bob, it’s a lot duller place to live.”
Walsh has also coordinated events and formed nonprofits that have brought medical care, nutritional support, education and community investments worth nearly $1 billion–to over seven million people in three dozen countries.
“Bob was one of the most creative, big thinkers ever to grace the sports community in Seattle,” Welts said. “He was a magnet of big ideas. He always liked to think about what’s great for Seattle.
“He had a unique ability to befriend and make friends with people in high places. … That didn’t always result in great business success, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.”