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Howard White: The Man Behind Jordan Brand’s Success


Howard White wasn’t the most prolific basketball player but his career in the game thrived when he joined the boardroom. He’s the longest-serving African-American man in Nike’s executive team. 

White’s contribution to the growth of the footwear industry is second to none. The success of the Jordan Brand is largely attributed to him because he lured Michael Jordan into buying into this idea. He’s also added some of the biggest basketball starts on Nike’s portfolio, like LeBron James. How did Howard White establish his career?

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Howard White’s Early Days

Howard White talking about his journey. Video Credit: GQ

White grew up in Hampton, Virginia. His mother worked as a housemaid for a white family to provide for his kids. His basketball dreams began in school. As a ninth-grade student, White and his friends walked into a gym and met three white men. As they played, they got redirected, something that irritated him.  

After the game, one of the men, Jim Hathaway, introduced himself and offered to help him become the next Oscar Robertson. In the 1960s and 1970s, Robertson was one of the biggest players in the game, just like LeBron today, most kids admired him. 

True to Jim Hathaway’s words, White became one of the best players in high school. Before he joined college, White underwent surgery on his knee. Afterwards, he chose to play for Maryland. 

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Becoming H

A Peak into Howard White. Video Credit: Jordan

In basketball circles, Howard White goes by the name H. He got the name during his playing days at Maryland, thanks to coach Lefty Driesell

Even at this young age, White’s persuasion skills were evident and Driesell allowed him to wear his jersey with the letter “H” on his back. 

The point guard was one of the biggest players in college basketball and even got an alley named after him. 

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Leaving Basketball

Howard reflecting on his work with Air Jordan. Source: Instagram

Just when Howard White was establishing himself in the game, persistent knee injuries held him back. In his senior year in college, he suffered another knee injury but that wasn’t enough for the Capital Bullets to stop drafting him. 

He was a 14th-round, 192 overall pick in the NBA draft of 1973. Nonetheless, he knew he wouldn’t last long, so he stopped playing.

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“Although I was a good basketballer, I kept getting hurt so something in the world mustn’t have wanted me to play basketball. As crazy as it sounds, I thought there was a greater calling,” White told Andscape.

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First Recruit

Coach Driessell gave H an assistant coach role on his team. His first assignment was to convince Moses Malone to join Maryland and he did. He spent some time with his mother while attempting to meet him at his house. 

Malone’s mother liked him and told him so much about him that he accepted to play for Maryland. Malone went on and got drafted into the NBA.

During his time in Maryland, he met so many people, including one man, Kheni White, who changed the trajectory of his career. He pitched to him over the phone, and a few months later, White landed a job at Nike as a marketing representative.

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Building the MJ Brand

In 1984, Michael Jordan was set to sign a deal with Adidas. However, White changed everything before Jordan hit the court. 

He met his parents and was impressed by the vision they had for their son. Jordan’s parents were also impressed by the fact that a black man would be in charge of their son. 

This, among other things, led MJ to sign for Nike. Over the years, their partnership delivered six championships and 14 sneaker collections. 

For White, it was mostly about having someone believe in him. “There are so many things that are ridiculous to do, but there was a small band of people that believed,” he told Boardroom.

Today, Howard White spends time with young kids in schools and programs, giving them the same belief that he was given. He’s a prime example that African Americans can rise to the top echelons of business. 

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