From Incarceration to Inspiration: Larry Miller’s Career Lessons from Returning Citizen to Chairman of Nike’s Jordan Brand

We often forget that privilege plays a big part in our life and career trajectories. Today’s blog post is for those of you who didn’t get the best start in life and may be struggling to find opportunities or inspiration to create a better future for yourselves in modern society.

Larry Miller is one of America’s most inspiring businessmen, known for steering Nike’s Jordan Brand from a $150M sneaker business to a global phenomenon valued at over $7.5B today. From becoming the first Black Vice President at Nike to running the Portland Trail Blazers as President, you may be surprised to know that Larry actually grew up in the world of gang violence and was in and out of jail from ages 13 to 30.

The Journey from Jail to Jordan Brand

Larry credits today’s success to his early interest in getting an education, even earning his GED when he was incarcerated. The last time he was incarcerated, Larry started thinking about how he could turn his life around so that he could show up and be there for his newborn daughter. This led him to enroll in his prison’s community college program, where inmates were allowed to take classes during the day. After earning an Associates Degree, he moved into a halfway house and transferred his credits to Temple University, where he majored in finance and accounting.

His first corporate job out of college was at Campbell Soup Company as a Financial Management Trainee, where he went on to get an MBA in finance and marketing through the company’s tuition program. A few years later, Larry moved to Portland to work for apparel company Jansen. Through a competition swimwear deal, Larry met Nike’s head of apparel and got recruited to run the day-to-day operations of Nike’s $1B U.S. business.

When Michael Jordan announced his retirement, there was some internal debate over whether the Jordan Brand should continue. Larry was part of the camp who believed in the brand, taking on the role of President and growing the business from $150M to over $4B in 7 years!

Larry then made a move into the sports industry as the President of the Portland Trail Blazers, where he attended NBA owners meetings and negotiated deals between players and owners. Five years later, Larry got a call asking him to return to Nike. His love of the Jordan Brand and business brought him back to running the day-to-day operations until he eventually transitioned into the role of Chairman of the Jordan Advisory Board, where he now advises the President and brings the board together to make strategic decisions.

If you put in the same effort and results, then you should have the same expectations and opportunities as the next person.


Larry’s Learnings & Lessons

  1. Find people who can help and support you. Larry is grateful to the many people who encouraged him throughout his journey, whether they knew about his past or not. This feeling of being supported by the people in his life gave him the confidence he needed to get started and keep going.
  2. Find belonging. In the face of imposter syndrome, everyone needs to get to a point where they feel like they belong. It’s fine to sit and listen to those around you, but don’t assume that they are smarter than you. Speak up and remember that you belong at the table because you earned your way there.
  3. Face your past. When Larry was caught up in gang violence, he shot and killed a young man, which he regrets everyday. Years later, he had the opportunity to meet and apologize to his family and listen to each of them express how the death had impacted them. The family forgave Larry at the end of this experience, which felt like a huge burden had been lifted off.
  4. Don’t give up no matter how tough things get. A lot of people are ashamed of the circumstances they had to overcome to get to where they are. For the longest time, Larry never shared his story and felt like he had to cover a big part of himself. Now, Larry finds strength in speaking about his experiences and using his journey as a way to help others feel more confident about overcoming hardships that other people may not have had to and still get to where they are. 
  5. Don’t shortchange yourself. When Larry was job hunting, he had an advisor who told him that he should settle for a clerk role if he couldn’t land a role in accounting due to his circumstances. He decided that he didn’t want to settle for less than what he’d worked hard for because he put in the same time and effort as the next person and deserved the same opportunities.
  6. Continue pushing towards equity. We should always be thankful to the folks who came before us and opened the doors for us. To honor their sacrifices, we need to take where we are today and keep moving forward to create new opportunities for equity in our future generations.

Thank you for reading!

I would like to sincerely thank Larry for taking the time to share his one-of-a-kind, inspiring journey and lessons with us to serve as a beacon of hope for anyone navigating life’s challenges. I hope that this blog post resonates with you in one way or another, especially if you’ve been feeling lost or discouraged in your own journey through life and career. Please visit to learn more about Larry’s memoir JUMP, which he wrote alongside his daughter to inspire others and advocate for criminal justice reform and expanded educational opportunities for incarcerated people.