YOUNG BLACK ENTREPRENEUR MAGAZINE
THE SPRING FORWARD ISSUE
Natalie White, Interim President and Chief Operating Officer of the WNBA team, Los Angeles Sparks (LA Sparks), has set NCAA records as a college basketball player and has won awards as a WNBA executive. She is now in the process of renovating the gym in her hometown that she grew up playing in located in Fort Valley, Georgia. Her goal is to give the youth a safe place to play sports and learn valuable life and educational skills.
White is a Fort Valley legend who attended Peach County High School and played on the girl's basketball team from 1987 to 1991. White's high school basketball coach and aunt, Maxine Cherry, helped strengthen White's player development skills, mental toughness, and desire to learn the game and get better every step of the way. In honor of White's prestigious playing career, Peach County High School retired her number #3 basketball jersey, currently on display in the school's gym.
White gives credit to her aunt and former Head Coach of the Peach County High School girls basketball team of 30 years, Cherry, for building the foundation that ultimately led White to become a rising basketball star. Cherry has a revered basketball legacy of her own, including being inducted into the Fort Valley State University Hall of Fame and having March 17, 2016, proclaimed Coach Maxine Cherry Day in the city of Fort Valley, GA. It's a no-brainer that White trusted Cherry to oversee the building process and work closely with the engineers and architects to ensure the A10tion Foundation Center fulfills White's vision for the multifaceted youth center.
"I come from an athletic family. My aunt Coach Maxine Cherry was my high school basketball coach. She also was an All-American at Fort Valley State University," said White. "I have an uncle who played in the NFL. I have cousins who played basketball, football, and baseball. I don't think I had a choice of not playing sports and I am glad that I did. I picked up a basketball at the age of five and it's been something that's been rooted in me ever since."
After high school, White continued her playing career at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), where she played basketball all four years. White had a stellar playing career earning the 1995 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Player of the Year. She previously held the NCAA Division I record for steals in a career and most steals as a freshman. In 2001, she was inducted into the FAMU Hall of Fame, and in 2011 she was honored by being put in the MEAC Hall of Fame. While attending FAMU, White earned a Bachelor of Science degree in communications and a Masters degree in Sports Management.
White's sports background has instilled in her several core values: discipline, teamwork, leadership, the power of knowledge, and perseverance. These core values are what have catapulted her into dominating the business of sports. She started working with the global athletic brand NIKE upon graduating from college for more than ten years. She was first an intern and eventually climbed her way up the ladder to become the NIKE Footwear Account Sales Executive. Within this role, she effectively managed and serviced accounts based in Southern California worth more than 24 million dollars and optimized NIKE's growth and brand presence within the Los Angeles market for prime accounts.
White would move on from the elite sports and fitness company to become an award-winning sports executive in the WNBA, working for the Atlanta Dream team for more than eight years. With the Atlanta Dream, she was the Senior Director of Sales and Vice President of Basketball Operations. Within those roles, White led her sales team to six consecutive award-winning seasons, assisted in developing and managing the Jr. Dream program for youth basketball, managed and executed a basketball operations budget of 1.1 million dollars, and the list of accomplishments continues.
White transitioned out of her role with the Atlanta Dream team, joined the LA Sparks in January 2018 as the Senior Vice President, and led both the marketing and community outreach efforts for the LA Sparks. She helped the LA Sparks win the WNBA Ticket Sales Franchise of the Year Awards in 2018 and 2019. White also guided the social media campaign and has helped the LA Sparks significantly increase their social media following by 40 percent, which led to the LA Sparks earning the WNBA Marketing Franchise of the Year Award in 2019. Due to her significant achievements and high growth business mechanisms, she landed the positions of Interim President and Chief Operating Officer in December 2020.
She noted how her basketball background influenced her professional career and how she has seamlessly moved into leadership positions in the sports business.
"Being a point guard and playing in college; naturally, I was in that leadership position. I say that I was born to lead, and I don't shy away from being a leader, delegating tasks, and helping others. There are three parts of my personality: I am a leader, I love inclusivity, and I love teamwork. Teamwork is how I am driving my staff within the LA Sparks and ingraining in them the importance of teamwork to get things done," said White. "Through playing sports, I have learned how to win, how to lose, and how to overcome obstacles and adversity. For the most part, my leadership skills and my pridefulness in teamwork are what I pride myself on."
With all that White has accomplished, she has never forgotten about where she came from. Through her non-profit organization A10tion Foundation and her first-class basketball camps, she has given back to the Fort Valley community and shared her well-rounded sports and life lessons with the youth. White is passionate about getting the A10tion Foundation Center off the ground. The A10tion Foundation Center is formerly known as the old Hunt Middle School, located on Tulip Drive in Fort Valley, Georgia.
White has invested much of her time and resources into building the community center. Along with a plethora of sports for the youth to choose from, the A10tion Foundation Center will have classrooms that focus on financial literacy, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math), and mental health. There will also be an interactive technology lab to increase their educational skills. The lab is designed to assist the students with their schoolwork while enhancing their STEAM skills to help them get ahead of the learning curve and broaden their employment opportunities.
"I wanted to create a platform to give back to the community and teach the youth about my journey," said White. "I want them not to be afraid to travel and step out of their comfort zone and try new things."
As the A10tion Foundation Center's reconstruction efforts continue, A10tion Foundation Inc. is currently seeking donations and partnerships to accelerate the redevelopment process. All proceeds are tax-deductible and will go toward building new gym court floors, locker rooms, technology labs, and much more.
To learn more about how you can donate to the A10tion Foundation Center, click here.