Although Jordan Brand chairman Larry Miller’s memoir “Jump: My Secret Journey From the Streets to the Boardroom” officially bows today, it sparked controversy long before its publication.
In the book, Miller, who served as president of the Portland Trail Blazers before joining Jordan Brand parent Nike, detailed his younger self’s criminal transgressions, including shooting and killing a fellow teenager in 1965 in West Philadelphia. He reportedly claimed that he did not know the individual, who was identified last fall as Edward David White.
Miller first went public about his criminal past and time served in juvenile detention centers and prisons in an interview with Sports Illustrated last October. The fact that White is not identified by name in Miller’s new book and that Miller did not reach out to his family prior to its release rankled White’s relatives. They learned of Miller’s responsibility indirectly through advance interviews he did last fall.
Relatives of White’s first aired their displeasure in an interview with The New York Times late last year. A few members of his family — his sister Barbara Mack, his daughter Azizah Arline and his son Hasan Adams — have subsequently met with Miller and his co-writer daughter Laila Lacy, according the family’s attorney Ronald L. Marrero of Jared S. Zafran LLC. White’s family also disputes a newspaper story from decades ago that described White as a rival gang member, and said he was returning home from work when he encountered Miller in 1965. “That was not the case and Mr. Miller acknowledges that and that he did not know Mr. White, and he was looking to avenge a gang issue then. And Mr. White was not known to him and was merely a person at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Marrero said.
Miller first met last month with Mack, Arline and Adams for 60 to 90 minutes, and at a second meeting for 30 to 40 minutes on Jan. 13, according to Marrero, who arranged for and attended the meeting at his firm’s Philadelphia office. At 16, Miller was convicted of second-degree murder and he reportedly served four and a half years for that crime.
Despite all three of White’s relatives forgiving Miller for the killing, their attorney said, “They’re certainly not satisfied with how this all started. They haven’t necessarily been satisfied with some of the outreach from the Millers, even after we’ve set up these meetings. They feel that Mr. Miller could have been more proactive with all of this. Ultimately, they’re still going through the mechanisms of initially processing it and dealing with their emotions. They’re not satisfied with the initial steps and are reserving judgment to see fully whether Mr. Miller is recalcitrant about his actions. They want to make sure he follows through with the things that he said he wants to do.”
Multiple interview requests for Miller were acknowledged last month by a Harper Collins spokeswoman, who suggested scheduling one this month, but as of Tuesday had not done so. Media inquiries to the spokeswomen and Nike were not answered.
Mack, White’s 84-year-old sister, attended the first meeting with Adams and Arline at the Zafran offices. Describing that encounter as “very raw,” Marrero said Miller and his daughter were seated across from White’s three relatives at a conference table. Standing in the corner strictly as an observer, Marrero described it as “very emotional” and that he had not expected Mack to tell Miller that she forgave him. “I don’t know that I could do that. Obviously, she is a person of faith and was able to reach into that faith to do so,” Marrero said. “She did say at that first meeting that if she were 30 years younger, she would have jumped across the table to get to him. He was looking down and said, ‘You would have been right to do so.’ And he apologized again.”
That first meeting had been set up to “hear from Mr. Miller, who apologized for his actions from 50-odd years ago. He also apologized for having not reached out to the family before writing the book and publishing the article [with Sports Illustrated in October],” Marrero said. “He also said that he had hired a private investigator to try to locate the family and Ms. Mack had responded by saying, ‘You must not have hired a good PI, because The New York Times not only found them, but also the cemetery where Mr. White was buried.”
Each of White’s relatives addressed Miller, according to the attorney. Mack read from a letter that she had intended to send to the book’s publisher, but did not because The Times had interviewed her, according to the family’s attorney. Adams told Miller how he never knew his father and how he gave his own son, who has the same birthday as White, the middle name “David,” which was his father’s middle name. White’s daughter also read from a letter, speaking of what it was like to grow up without a father, to not have him to give her away on her wedding day, or to meet her sons, Marrero said. She also told Miller how this “whole thing has caused her to grieve,” and has opened up a new wound for her and Adams, since they didn’t know their father and previously weren’t able to grieve in this way, the attorney said, adding that Mack said the experience has reopened old wounds for her that she had tried to push into the past.
White’s relatives also spoke of learning that Miller was responsible for White’s death through internet sources as opposed to someone reaching out to them, Marrero said. Mack “forgave Miller, specifically telling him that in order to be forgiven, she must forgive [referencing a Psalm],” Marrero said, adding that Arline and Adams “all forgave him. They explained that they are still processing everything.”
The prospect of setting up a scholarship in White’s name was discussed at Miller’s second meeting with White’s daughter and son but nothing definitive was agreed upon, according to Marrero. Miller discussed how he had set up a scholarship (the Jordan Brand Wings Scholars Program in 2015) through his work at Nike that is administered through the United Negro College Fund, the attorney said. They indicated they had someone who worked at that program and provided that person’s name, whom Marrero said he emailed Monday to follow up with to start the process of setting up the scholarship.
Nothing was signed between Miller and White’s relatives and there is no legal ground to try to force him to do this, Marrero said. “The Son of Sam laws doesn’t allow for recovery of proceeds from the book, or any criminal act at this point. There’s no contract with this. There would be no basis to establish this type of contract either. At this point, he has said he wants to do this and has agreed this would be a good way to honor the legacy. And he’s given us the people to reach out to to start that process. At this point, it’s a situation that he will stick to his word and want to honor Mr. White’s legacy to make good for his actions from the past.”
Miller and his daughter are trying to get as much participation and involvement from White’s family in establishing something as a way to honor him, Marrero said. As for putting the onus on the family to get the ball running, the lawyer said, “Instead of just mentioning a name and then providing me the contact information for this person later, he should have had them doing the outreach. But that seems to have been the pattern the whole way through. He hasn’t done the outreach that you would think [he would do].”
There weren’t any numbers discussed in terms of a financial commitment for a scholarship, Marrero said.
White’s two children attended the second meeting last week with Miller and his daughter. Mack did not attend that one and is no longer interested in any contact with Miller, Marrero said. Mack is interested in seeing the scholarship go forward.
Arline suggested the scholarship should start with direct descendants of White’s, including her children, as well as her brother’s children. A second level would be descendants of White’s parents. Should there not be any familial applicants, or if that scholarship is funded to such a degree that it would allow for familial and non-familial applicants, then the latter should hail from White’s alma mater, West Philadelphia High School.
While the fact that White was not identified by name in the new book was a point of contention with his family, his relatives did not ask that the book be amended to add his name, nor did Miller or Lacy offer to do so during either meeting, Marrero said.
Aside from media requests to the White family, no one has expressed interest in writing books about their stories, documentaries or anything along those lines. “They weren’t even sure that they wanted to do media to tell you the truth,” Marrero said. “They wanted to tell their story and certainly the story of them giving forgiveness to Mr. Miller. But I don’t think they’ve explored that and have given any real thought to that aspect of it.”
The White family has also not sought or discussed the possibility of a boycott. Miller’s turnaround resonates with people, Marrero said. “There’s a redemption story there that obviously you would like to hear in American society. I don’t know if it would result in a boycott just from his actions. If people felt he wasn’t really recalcitrant [sic] and really honest in his apologies, and more importantly with actions afterward such as the scholarship, I would think the family would then want to reach out to various media members to say he hasn’t kept his word…but I don’t know if it will result in any real boycotts in Nike or in the Jordan brand in any real way.”
Personally speaking, Marrero said he can see why Nike would want to push this version of Miller and how he had made mistakes in the past, was able to overcome them and become an extremely productive member of society. “That’s what we would want out of the criminal justice system, especially when we’re talking about the real reforms that have been pushed across the country of various levels of criminal justice reform. This is one of those things that could be a success story. I could see them using some of this to help with their brand,” Marrero said.
Acknowledging that recognizing White in the book before it was published would have been a key part of telling that story, the attorney said, “That was definitely a faulty step from their side. If they had done this properly, they would have reached out to the family from the beginning and gotten them on board. The image of an apology and forgiveness being forgiven would have made much more sense than the way it has played out. They’ve gotten it but they’ve had to get it in meetings after articles have had to come out. It’s already upset the family. It could have been done, it should have been done before.”