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He Rose to the Highest Levels of Business and Basketball—but With a Secret

As a teen, Jordan Brand chairman Larry Miller shot and killed a man. He's kept that truth buried, until now.

The mementos lining Larry Miller’s office suggest a life of comfort and privilege, of celebrated achievements and celebrity friendships. The autographed red boxing gloves from Muhammad Ali. The commemorative basketball from President Obama. The signed notes from Michael Jordan.

This plush suite, tucked into a quiet corner of the Sebastian Coe building, on Nike’s sprawling campus in Beaverton, Ore., is the primary sanctuary for the man who has piloted the Jordan Brand since 2012, who counts MJ as a close friend and David Stern as a mentor and who has nearly every major figure in basketball (along with Kanye West) on speed dial.

You could spend hours admiring it all, without a single hint of the dark chapter that preceded the journey. Of the years Miller spent in prison, or the horrifying act that put him there. Of a September evening in 1965, when Miller, just 16 years old, stood at the corner of 53rd and Locust streets in West Philadelphia, and fired a .38-caliber gun into the chest of another teenager, killing him on the spot.

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It’s a secret that Miller, 72, has guarded for more than 50 years. Even as he ran an NBA franchise and then oversaw the transformation of the Jordan Brand, nearly doubling its revenue during his tenure, he kept it from Jordan, Nike founder Phil Knight and NBA executives. He had already, for decades, been holding the truth from his friends and even his own children, for fear its exposure might destroy him. But it is a story Miller now feels must be told, and will be detailed in full in a forthcoming book, Jump: My Secret Journey From the Streets to the Boardroom, cowritten with his oldest daughter, Laila Lacy, set for release by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, in early 2022.

In a 90-minute interview with Sports Illustrated, Miller described being haunted by the killing, which he described as utterly senseless. He did not know the victim, identified in the news then as 18-year-old Edward White.

“That’s what makes it even more difficult for me, because it was for no reason at all,” Miller says. “I mean, there was no valid reason for this to happen. And that’s the thing that I really struggle with and that’s—you know, it’s the thing that I think about every day. It’s like, I did this, and to someone who—it was no reason to do it. And that’s the part that really bothers me.”

Revealing his past now, Miller says, will free him to discuss his experiences with at-risk youth and people in prison, and perhaps help steer others away from violence and toward a productive life.

Miller says he wanted the facts to become public on his terms and his timeline, by disclosing it exclusively to SI now, before any details could leak in advance of the book’s publication.

“This was a really difficult decision for me,” says Miller, reclining in a dark-brown leather chair, across from Lacy, sitting on a matching leather couch, “because for 40 years, I ran from this. I tried to hide this and hope that people didn’t find out about it.”

Preserving the secret allowed Miller to build a successful career with companies like Campbell Soup, Kraft Foods and the Trail Blazers, where he served as team president from 2007 to ’12, between stints with Nike and Jordan Brand, where he now holds the role of chairman. But it came at a cost to his psyche: recurring nightmares and migraines severe enough to send him to the emergency room.

“It was eating me up inside,” he says.

For the last several months, Miller has been gradually informing people in his inner circle—including Jordan, Knight, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and several Nike executives, including Hall of Fame coach George Raveling, another close mentor—to ensure they would hear it from him first.

“I've been blown away by how positive the response has been,” Miller says, calling the process “a real freeing exercise.”

His hope is that his story will provide inspiration for anyone who has been in prison and a lesson for how society views them. “It’s really about making sure that people understand that formerly incarcerated people can make a contribution. And that a person’s mistake, or the worst mistake that they made in their life, shouldn’t control what happens with the rest of your life.”

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Miller’s Nike office is filled with mementos, including personal notes from Jordan and a picture with Ali.

Millers Nike office is filled with mementos, including personal notes from Jordan and a picture with Ali.

For Miller, the troubles began at age 13, when he joined the Cedar Avenue gang, in the Cobb’s Creek section of West Philly. It had nothing to do with money or drugs or any issues at home, Miller says; his father worked as a supervisor for a drywall company, while his mom took care of the eight Miller children (“We had plenty of food,” Miller says). None of the others got in trouble with the law. The third-oldest, Miller says he had been a model child up to that point—“straight-A student, teacher’s pet … the smartest kid in the class”—but none of it gave him the sense of respect and belonging he desired.

“I started being more interested in impressing people in the street than I did my teachers and parents,” he says. “By the time I was 16, I was just a straight-up gangbanger, thug. I was drinking every day.”

Miller was arrested multiple times, for a variety of offenses, and spent most of his years from ages 13 to 30 in juvenile detention or prison. In the interview, he demurred on discussing his experiences being incarcerated or much of what came after, saying he addresses that in his book. He focused, instead, on the night of Sept. 30, 1965. As Miller describes it, his decision to pull the trigger was an act of retribution. Earlier that month, a younger friend—someone he considered “an innocent”—had been stabbed and killed during a fight with the 53rd and Pine gang.