In the social media era, it's difficult to imagine public figures, especially those with significant influence in the subcultures we are a part of, having a history that we're unable to access. Voyeurism has led us to think we see all and know all; in truth, we don't. This is particularly true of Jordan Brand chairman Larry Miller, whose reveal of a secret he'd held for 56 years is a powerful lesson in judgment and redemption.
Larry Miller, who has piloted the brand since 2012, revealed to Sports Illustrated – ahead of his book Jump: My Secret Journey From the Streets to the Boardroom – that he had spent time in prison at the age of 16 years old for taking the life of another teen.
Sitting at the seat of power within any brand is no small feat, but as chairman of the Jordan Brand, Miller wields more power and influence than most. Given the rich, well-documented history of the brand, its frontman Michael Jordan, Tinker Hatfield, Phil Jackson, and everybody else that played a pivotal role in building its legacy, it seems unfathomable that something so unexpected could come to light.
In almost a decade at Jordan, and for over fifty years (several of which were spent at the helm of an NBA franchise, the Portland Trailblazers), Miller had managed to keep the dark secret from Nike's founder Phil Knight, MJ, NBA executives, and countless others.
Miller’s choice to open up publicly was one of altruism, an act that he hopes will give him the freedom to discuss his experiences with at-risk youth and people in prison, in the hopes of leading them to a better path. A path similar to the one he went down after spending much of his early life in and out of detention facilities.
It's rare in our society that we witness an individual find a way to shed dark chapters of their life and turn them into something positive – not out of any choice of their own, but because of society's conditioned attitudes towards rehabilitation and the capacity for redemption pertaining to serious crimes. More often than not, formerly incarcerated individuals are unable to shake the criminal moniker, which can, unfortunately, lead to a cycle of crime, instead of the rehabilitation that the individual and society would benefit from most.
I imagine this to be the exact reason Miller chose to keep his secret for so long. Hugely out of guilt, of course, but would somebody who has openly admitted to killing someone ever be allowed to work to their full potential and reach the same level of success he has? I find that highly unlikely, and that is truly unfortunate.
In his own words, Miller nailed it by saying: “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.”
It's all too easy to judge somebody based on a crime they committed in their formative year, but through an open mind towards rehabilitation, we have the power to unlock the potential of extremely talented individuals.
I hope that Larry's story inspires others and helps shift the perception of former criminals and the ways in which we rehabilitate people in society, and challenges big corporations and brands like Nike and Jordan to do more in ways of understanding and opportunities.
To hear the revelation in Miller's own words, head to the Sports Illustrated exclusive here.