THE ART OF FLY – HOWARD “H” WHITE
JORDAN's VP OF BRAND BREAKS DOWN THE SOUL BEHIND THE BUSINESS. ART: @JOEKING
As a founding father of Jordan brand, Howard “H” White has been there since the beginning, shaping the business into what it is today. Here, he shares his philosophies on the magic behind the brand, built over his 30+ years as an agent, community advocate, business strategist, and big brother to athletes and employees alike.
What do you see as your role within the brand?
“At this juncture, I view my role as seeing reality in the impossible. I think that often we need something or someone to remind us of that inner energy. This brand actually represents the possibility of the impossible. How do you overcome the times in life that may seem the darkest? How do you go forth when everything says it can’t be done and something within you says, ‘But we know it can be’?
It’s a shoe that people purchase but it’s the ideology that makes it, and takes it from being something simple into something far greater. When it can actually transcend being about a sport or a person and [transform] into an ideology of hope, of greatness, then you’ve got something special.”
Was there a moment you realized the brand was powerful?
“I don’t know that you ever really know that moment is upon you. The mothers of really good players of the time, they would say, “You know what? Maybe one day my son will be able to fly.” There were mothers and fathers who said, “If you do your chores, if you get good grades, you can have those Jordans that you covet so much.”
That says something is happening that’s bigger than a moment, than basketball or a person. When that moment comes together, that spark can create something amazingly brilliant.
If, in fact, you don’t take that and try to use it to replicate something in your life, then you’re really not carrying around that flame or spark. If you believe enough and can see something greater than yourself, then all of a sudden you recognize that galvanizing force.”
Working with talented athletes can be quite a personal relationship, based on trust. When did you know it was going to work?
“Often I think we forget that athletes are people. Yes, they might be great on court, they might do super-Herculean things, but at their core they’re people. Our relationship was always built around just that: being a big brother!”
If you could go back 35 years and give yourself some advice, what would you say?
“Life is a very interesting gambit. When you get older you can say, ‘If you had done X, Y and Z,’ but that’s not the way life is ever lived. Life has to be lived not by going backward but going forward. What would the old Howard White have told the young Howard White? Could he have told him anything that would have made it much better than it is today? Or would he say, ‘Just keep paying attention to all the signs. Keep reading all the tea leaves, and above all stay true to who you are. It may not always be popular, but actually if you believe in who you are, others may also believe.’?
Here’s the key to anything in life: if you have the ability to believe in something, then others will pick up a sickle, a hammer, a board and follow you. If you don’t have the ability to bring others along, then you will never build anything of greatness.”
You are not a huge shoe collector, so what are the most precious things you’ll take away from your time with the brand?
“I wear a simple gold Jordan 12 necklace, the ‘flu game’. The game Scottie Pippen had to help Michael off the court afterward. No matter how great you are, you always have to be humble enough to accept someone else’s hand. Life is never really about just you. I don’t care how big and how great you think you are; are you humble enough to accept another shoulder to lean on, another hand to help you through? For me, that moment signified the achievement that this brand was built on. It may have been forged in the likeness of an individual, but it took many individuals to bring it into greatness and the light. Those moments that were lived out in front of the whole world, I think, were obviously amazing moments that gave the brand a lot.”
What piece of advice would you pass on?
“Everyone is a star. All you have to do is pick out what makes you shine and let it be seen. It’s about all of us collectively in a universe filled with billions of stars. If you think about stars, think of how many light-years it takes the light to even reach your eyes. Just because something does not go the way you think it should – if you want to be a star, often it takes many, many, many years before the light reaches someone else’s eyes.
A little of that seed that’s planted in the darkness, under the ground, all the work it takes to push through the darkness of the earth. No one may ever notice the seed until it actually blooms or bears fruit. Don’t forget the work that it did in order for that to happen. A lot of work is done in the darkness, in the earth, or out in the darkness of the universe, before it ever reaches you so you can admire it, enjoy it. When things aren’t going the way you think they should, accept the darkness and keep working, because one day you may just shine.”