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Larry Miller. (Photo: CBS Morning Show via YouTube).

The O’Toole Chronicles: Forgiveness

By Kevin O'Toole, June 21 2022 12:01 am

When you see the “Jumpman” logo or someone wearing a pair of Jordan sneakers, you instinctively think of one person – Michael Jordan. However, also important to the iconic brand is a person many people have never heard of – Larry Miller.

Larry Miller is a generational corporate superstar at Nike and who worked alongside Michael Jordan as the Jordan brand became one of the most defining assets of this storied company. On paper, Larry is exceptionally well qualified. He holds an accounting degree from Temple and an MBA from LaSalle University. Aside from his time at Nike, Larry spent 5 years as President of the NBA Portland Trailblazers and was an accomplished corporate executive for Jantzen, Campbell Soup Company, and Kraft Foods before his first hiring at Nike.

In 1997, Larry was hired by Nike as a Vice President and he worked his way up to President of the Jordan Brand. In 2007, he was lured away to the NBA as President of the Portland franchise. In 2012, he returned to his true love, the Jordan brand.

Why does this matter?

In an October 2021 interview with Sports Illustrated, Larry Miller admitted to the murder of Edward White. Miller was 16 years old at the time this heinous act was committed and as he tells the story, he was angry and directionless since the age of 12 and looking for trouble. He later recounts how “senseless” the murder was as Edward White left behind a loving family, including an 8-month-old son and an unborn daughter. Unimaginably tragic.

Larry was arrested and spent time in jail. He earned his GED from behind bars and he spoke at his graduation (again behind bars). He stated then to his fellow graduates “let’s not serve time, let time serve us.” Profound words for an incarcerated high school student.

In that Sports Illustrated interview, Larry recalled that some of the same people he met in jail 40 years ago are still behind bars now – that is another column.

The point of this story is about Larry coming to terms with his past deed and how he came to be forgiven by the family that he nearly destroyed some 40 years ago.

Larry lived with this secret for years and did not disclose it to many people. Larry’s daughter and Michael Jordan advised him to speak out and address this long held issue. As Larry said it, the toxicity of it haunted him and made him ill. He speaks of this horrible time in a book that he wrote and co-authored with his daughter, Laila Lacy. The books title is JUMP: MY SECRET JOURNEY FROM THE STREETS TO THE BOARDROOM.

In my opinion, the one mistake that Larry made when he published his journey was that he didn’t give enough space and respect to the victim, Edward White. The White family was angered and finally met up with Larry when he asked for their forgiveness. Think about that moment as the killer of their Dad asks the son (that 8-month-old) and daughter (then unborn) to forgive him — and they graciously forgave him. Think about that. They forgave him?!?! That is amazing. How many of us have that capacity?

Larry wanted this story to be told to free himself and more importantly, to stop another Larry Miller from repeating his mistakes and living the same life that a young Larry did. The bonus here was Larry was finally able to forgive himself and have the White family forgive him. A difficult and complicated maneuver by any calculation.

It might sound a little pithy, but I need to pivot to politics.

Those of us who have lived a few decades in politics will have a moment or two when we have to come to a crossroad and seek or ask forgiveness. Politics is dynamic and has a punishing full contact element that plays out sometimes on an unforgiving terrain.

I do not need to cite the virtues of helping others in this business or seeking help. Along the way on the road to assisting with legislative policy, a job, an appointment of some kind, inevitability one party will cross, undercut, disappoint, or even lie for the life changing help that was given or sought.

Many of us in politics owe our existence to someone else, whether we want to admit it or not. Similarly, many of us have lived in a world of denial of being helped. None of us did this thing alone. So what is with this denial of being helped? Too many people today seek help in the public arena and later resent the thought of being given that assistance.

I ask all those who know the life and language that I speak, in those moments of contempt or moments of resentment, turn a cheek in these disappointing times, times when human weakness or frailty rears its ugliness and just forgive the offending party — I know what I’m saying is not easy. I have borne witness to some pretty ugly and malicious campaign accusations, but along the way found time to live with those moments. Whether it was a vicious lie about my mother being an illegal alien, or that I was a protected class and an affirmative action baby, or harsh distortions of my voting record or supporters, these falsehoods hurt, but were soon forgotten. Sometimes these things are said by the closest people to you — a former staffer, a disgruntled family member, or a jealous rival.

As my mentor Steven Adubato stated to me many times, in politics (and in life) sometimes the more you do for people, the more they turn to resent you. While this is not always the case, it is common enough to warrant his revealing and long-standing observation. Moreover, to make it clear, Big Steve said this rule is more painful and more apparent with family members.

I am not sure if this ending is perfectly analogous to the story about Larry Miller, but it has some of the same markings of human nature that we need to observe and most importantly – learn to ask for forgiveness or give forgiveness.

The power of forgiveness is so life affirming, powerful and rare.

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