Larry Miller returned to Nike Inc. last week after five years of deep immersion in the culture, methods, and strategic thinking of the National Basketball Association. So what does that experience bring to Nike?
Miller answered that question himself when he sat with the Portland Business Journal on July 13, his last full-day as president of the Portland Trail Blazers before returning to Nike to lead the Jordan brand.
“Relationships, for one,” Miller said.
Blazers owner Paul Allen appointed Miller his proxy at the league Board of Governors meetings, making Miller the only non-owner at the table during critical periods, including last year’s contentious labor negotiations.
“I knew (NBA Commissioner) David Stern and (Deputy Commissioner) Adam Silver and folks at the league, but the relationships are much much stronger (now) because I’ve worked with them, I’ve gone through the trenches and the labor deal,” Miller said. “And also, I know a lot more now about how the NBA works and how they think and operate, so I think there’s benefit with that in going back to Nike, as looking at working with them, so my perspectives will be a benefit because I understand how they do things and how they operate.”
Nike’s role in professional basketball is indisputable, since its shoes are on the feet of a majority of the league’s players. But that is a relationship between the brand and the player — not the brand and the league.
That role goes to its arch-rival, Adidas AG, which — led by its Portland-based Adidas America Inc. division — will next season be in the sixth year of an 11-year deal as the league’s official uniform supplier.
Nike’s been there before, though. Adidas only took over the league’s licensing deal when it acquired Reebok, and before it was Reebok’s it was carved up among several brands, including Nike. The Blazers were among a handful of teams wearing Nike gear in the 90s.
Outside of the European soccer, where teams ink individual deals with brands, Nike has steered clear from these uniform deals for most of the past decade before agreeing two years ago to be the outfitter of the National Football League starting with the upcoming season .
So will Miller and his tight bonds with NBA brass be helping Nike take the NBA uniform gig away from Adidas?
“We’ll see,” Miller said. “It’s not up right now, but we’ll see what happens when it does come up.”
Jordan’s Role at Jordan
Nike’s Jordan Brand business is unusual in that the person whose image the brand is built upon isn’t employed — at least not in the traditional sense — by Nike.
Michael Jordan, it’s well known, is pretty occupied in his day job as owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, so how hands on he is with the brand that bears his name?
According to Miller, he’s pretty hands on, and not just with the company brass.
“He still plays a big role in the brand. I think that’s one of the benefits we have, is having Michael involved, his insights, his perspective,” Miller said.
Though there’s a regular schedule of meetings with Jordan, Miller said he’s always accessible to people who work for the brand should some other issue arise.
“Whether it’s to talk to him about the product or business or marketing, we’re just reaching out and saying, ‘We’ll come to you,’” Miller said. “He’s always made himself accessible to folks who work on the brand. Not just me: It could be a designer or a developer. He’s always made himself accessible to those working with the brand, and we always take advantage of it.”
The Portland Business Journal is a KATU.com news partner.