Trail Blazers president Larry Miller resigns, will reunite with Nike
Miller, 61, had two years remaining on his contract with the Blazers, but he informed owner Paul Allen of his resignation on Friday. Miller will rejoin Nike later this summer as president of Brand Jordan, the same title he held from 1999 through 2006.
“It felt like it is the right time, and the right thing for me,’’ Miller said Saturday morning.
Affable and well-liked within the walls of the Blazers, Miller was an understated leader who preferred to stay out of the limelight while allowing his employees to do their jobs. He was an engaged president with both his staff and the public, easy with conversation in the office and quick with a handshake on the concourses of the Rose Garden, where he often roamed before games. His style improved morale and bridged a divide between the front office and fan base after the rigid and confrontational reign of Steve Patterson, his predecessor.
“My approach within the organization was to allow people to do their jobs and give support,’’ Miller said. “I wanted to let everyone know their job was important and create an atmosphere of family, and I think people bought into that, which helped people feel good about the Trail Blazers again.’’
Under his leadership, the Blazers started their current streak of 192 sellouts at the Rose Garden and have led the Western Conference in average attendance for the past four seasons. Also, the Rose Garden became the first American sports franchise to achieve Gold LEED Certification for an arena. He also served on the NBA board of governors in owner Paul Allen’s stead, and was on the labor committee during the negotiations for the league’s new collective bargaining agreement.
He drew criticism in the past year when his role was expanded to include more say in the basketball operations of the franchise in the wake of the firing of general manager Rich Cho. Miller headed the search for a replacement, but the process dragged on for more than a year before Neil Olshey was hired on June 4. During the general manager vacancy, Miller became the voice of the franchise, a role with which he was uncomfortable, and sometimes it revealed a less-than-precise knowledge of the nuances of basketball operations management.
His specialty was numbers and finance - he earned a degree in accounting at Temple and a master’s degree in business from LaSalle - and during his tenure, the Blazers books became stabilized. Three years before Miller was hired, the Blazers lost control of the Rose Garden as Allen entered into bankruptcy. Allen bought back the arena in 2007, and five months later hired Miller away from Nike to run a tighter ship.
“We got more focused on the bottom line,’’ Miller said. “Our goal became not only to win on the court, but off the court, and that means running a viable business.’’
Not everything was perfect during his tenure as the product on the floor endured the highs of a 54-win season and the lows of crippling injuries to organizational foundations Brandon Roy and Greg Oden. He was also part of one of the most turbulent front offices in the NBA, as three executives - assistant general manager Tom Penn, and general managers Kevin Pritchard and Cho - were fired in a 14-month span.
But five years later, Miller says he feels comfortable he is leaving the Blazers in a better place.
“We dealt with a lot of issues, but the organization was able to come through those issues and move forward,’’ Miller said. “To me, being a president is about having the right people in the right place, then providing support and a vision.’’