Chairman of Jordan Brand says he didn’t let criminal past define him

Larry Miller has become a symbol of human possibility.

Larry Miller has become a symbol of human possibility.

"I still have to pinch myself that I work with Michael Jordan," said Miller.

Over the span of his nearly three decadeslong career, Miller, once the president of the Portland Trail Blazers, is now the chairman of the wildly successful Jordan Brand, the namesake brand of basketball legend Michael Jordan, and a part of popular sport's brand Nike.

PHOTO: Larry Miller was the president of the Portland Trailblazers for five years.
Larry Miller was the president of the Portland Trailblazers for five years.

While Miller was climbing the professional ladder and soaring to new heights in his career - he carried a dark secret that he's now revealing in his new book, "Jump: My Secret Journey from the Streets to the Boardroom."

"The biggest secret was the homicide that I was involved in when I was 16 years old," said Miller.

Miller said that the murder took place while he was growing up in west Philadelphia.

In 1965, west Philadelphia was a hotbed for gangs and battles over territories often erupting and ending in death. At the time, Miller said he embraced the power he felt that came with street life.

"When you're in that environment and in that world, life is not valued and I didn't really understand the concept of life and death," said Miller, who starting at 12 was sent to juvenile detention centers multiple times. "I didn't value my own life."

PHOTO: Larry Miller pictured with his daughter, Laila.
Larry Miller pictured with his daughter, Laila.

Miller said his activity with gangs came to a head on Sept. 30, 1965.

"I was 16 years old, drunk," said Miller. "One of my gang members had gotten killed a little while before that, and we were just angry and out to get somebody and it was totally senseless. He just happened to be at the wrong place, at the wrong time. And I regret that every day, every day, I think about the fact that I took the life of a young Black man."

The victim was 18-year-old Edward 'David' White. Before publishing the book, Miller had never reached out to White's family nor mentioned him by name.

"In hindsight, I know now that I should have probably reached out to Mr. White's family before the book became public, mainly because I was trying to black out that part of my life … I never thought to reach out or to try to connect with them because I was almost trying to pretend like that part of my life didn't happen," said Miller, who has since connected with the family and is working to create a way to memorialize White.

Miller pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and served four and half years for the killing. He later would be back behind bars for a string of armed robberies.

At that point, Miller was a father and said he was determined to never return to prison. While incarcerated, he used educational programs to earn a high school diploma and a college degree – which ultimately helped him land his first job despite his criminal past.

He said he chose not to disclose his homicide conviction during job interviews.

"I didn't lie or hide it. I just didn't share it. The question on the application was, 'Have you been convicted of a crime in the last five years?' Well, the answer was no, because it had been longer than five years," Miller said.

PHOTO: Larry Miller revisited the neighborhood in west Philadelphia where he grew up.
Larry Miller revisited the neighborhood in west Philadelphia where he grew up.

Miller would go on to take over Nike's Jordan Brand and help build it into a $5 billion empire. He said he was able to do it by taking ownership of himself and valuing his own life.

"I think education is a key, But I think the real key is also changing the perception of yourself," Miller said. "And I think at the end of the day, you have to realize and believe that you can do something different with your life."

He said the higher he climbed professionally, the more he was plagued by severe migraines due to stress that stemmed from the past. He said his daughter suggested that he write a book.

"I still always felt like I wasn't being true to myself because I was holding and hiding a part of me that people didn't know about," he said.

Miller said that by telling his story he was able to heal complicated relationships, including seeking forgiveness from White's now 84-year-old sister after the book was published.

PHOTO: Larry Miller, Chairman of Jordan Brands, in west Philadelphia.
Larry Miller, Chairman of Jordan Brands, in west Philadelphia.

"'I've forgiven him. I had no choice. I have no choice. Because if not, if I do not forgive him, I cannot be forgiven," said White's sister, Barbara Mack.

Although it's been years since Miller walked through his old west Philadelphia neighborhood, he said the memories linger.

"It feels a little strange, it feels like, almost kind of coming full circle," Miller said. "You know, wishing I could go back to all those years and be on this corner and have a different outcome."

Many of the educational programs that helped Miller turn his life around no longer exist, but he's now made it his mission to change that. He works with groups like the Vera Institute of Justice to throw a lifeline to inmates who seek opportunity.

He also hopes that by sharing his own story, he will help change the perception of formerly incarcerated people.

"I could have just continued to live my life, but I felt like I've been so blessed in my life that if I didn't share this story, then I wasn't really showing my appreciation for the blessings that I have received over the years," said Miller.

He said his message is that the circumstances that you come from do not define who you are.

"You're going to lose, you're going to miss the shots," he said. "But if you can learn from that mistake, if you can benefit and grow from that mistake, then you still win."