Larry Miller finally has a story to tell after more than 50 years.
The Jordan Brand chairman and former Portland Trail Blazers executive Miller revealed in a new exclusive story at Sports Illustrated that in September of 1965, when he was 16 years old, he shot and killed another teenager in the streets of Philadelphia.
A troubled Miller, who was arrested multiples times and between 13 and 30 and spent time in juvenile detention or prison, said that he and three friends got drunk and went looking for anyone affiliated with a rival gang member on the streets of Philly. They sought punishment after a younger friend of Miller was stabbed and killed during a fight with the 53rd and Pine gang.
Miller told Sports Illustrated that he shot the first person they saw. He said he didn’t know the victim, or if he even had anything to do with his friend’s death or affiliation with the gang.
“We were all drunk,” Miller told author Howard Beck. “I was in a haze. Once it kind of set in, I was like, ‘Oh, (expletive), what have I done?’ It took years for me to understand the real impact of what I had done.
“If I could go back and undo it, I would absolutely do that,” Miller said. “I can’t. So all I can do is try to do what I can to help other people and try to maybe prevent this from happening to someone else.”
Miller was arrested soon after the shooting and police recovered the gun he shot the victim with. He would go on to spend time in prison, where he resumed his education on the path to earning his accounting degree from Temple University at 30 years old when released.
After leaving prison, Miller kept the shooting a secret after an encounter at the accounting firm Arthur Anderson. Miller nearly sealed the job offered, but it was revoked after he disclosed his past to the interviewer. He vowed to keep a secret since that moment.
Miller notes in the story that he never lied on a job application or in an interview. There were technicalities in the process he was able to evade about his past.
So why tell this story now? Miller told Beck that revealing his past will free him to discuss his own experience with at-risk youth and people in prison with the hopes of steering them away from violence to have a productive life. Miller said he wanted to release the information to the public through his forthcoming book, “Jump: My Secret Journey From the Streets to the Boardroom,” on his terms and timeline. The book is scheduled for release in early 2022.
“This was a really difficult decision for me because for 40 years, I ran from this,” Miller said. “I tried to hide this and hope that people didn’t find out about it.”
By not telling this story, Miller went on to have a very successful professional career with stops at Campbell Soup Company, Kraft Foods and the Trail Blazers. Miller was team president of the Blazers from 2007 until 2012 between his time at Nike and Jordan Brand. He was the first Black president in team history and Portland made respectable runs at the NBA Finals during his tenure, recording three consecutive trips to the playoffs while riding a streak of 159 consecutive sellouts.
While Miller enjoyed the success professionally, the dark cloud from his past hit him personally. He suffered recurring nightmares and migraines that sent him to the emergency room.
“It was eating me up inside,” Miller said.
Eventually, Miller had enough and took action. Over the past few months, he started telling people in his inner circle – including Michael Jordan, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Nike executives — about the shooting to get ahead of the book.
Miller said the responses were positive and labeled the processes a “freeing exercise.”
Silver told Sports Illustrated that he was initially “stunned” at Miller’s news but eventually transitioned to feeling a level of sadness that he carried the burden of the story this long without the support of friends and coworkers.
Miller hopes his story will inspire people that have been in prison and provide a lesson for how society views them. His focus is to prove that incarcerate people can make a contribution to the world and that a person’s mistakes shouldn’t control what happens to the rest of their lives. He hopes to work more with incarcerated people and underserved youth in the future.
“It’s not about me,” Miller said. “Some of the most creative, intelligent, smart people I know are people I’ve met in jail, because there’s all this talent and all this ability that I think is being wasted inside the jails.”
— Aron Yohannes