L.A. Sparks find inspiration to take women’s basketball to Africa

Once in awhile, I read about a woman who inspires me with her ability to participate in something fun while serving a higher purpose. Maybe reading a bit of her story will inspire you as well.

A few months ago, HoopFeed.com published a story about Los Angeles Sparks owner and board member Paula Madison.

Madison has been part of the ownership group since 2007, but has been in the background until recently due to her other jobs with NBC. Since retiring from NBC in April, she’s been a visible presence at every game and has stepped up her personal involvement with the team. In May, she took the whole team to see Prince.

Tina Thompson knew all the words to every song,” Madison told HoopFeed. “Everyone had a really good time.”

While Madison shares the goals of co-owners Kathy Goodman, Carla Christofferson and Lisa Leslie to get people to the games and market both the team and the league, she also has set her sights beyond Staples Center. She wants to have practices at different local high schools and turn them into community events. She also has plans to introduce the game to a decidedly non-local audience.

Madison told HoopFeed that she had talked to the Africa Channel, which her family owns, about participating in the channel’s Know Your Heritage Campaign. Madison wanted to help African-American Sparks players trace their family lineage through DNA testing and then take the players to the places in Africa where their families came from.

“In going there, we could bring basketball to Africa,” Madison said.

Two of the first volunteers for the project, DeLisha Milton-Jones and Ebony Hoffman, got their test results after last Fridays Sparks’ game. Madison was on hand to make the presentation.

Milton-Jones is from two different Nigerian tribes and, not surprisingly, one (The Hausa) is known for its height. Hoffman hails from the Limba people in Sierra Leone or, as she joked, “from the beach, baby!”

Both players were thrilled with the gift of discovering their heritage. Milton-Jones said that she has always been impressed at the way the African people have a “mad love” relationship with their community worldwide. In fact, she reported that she saw proof of that mad love almost immediately.

“I was in Roscoe’s afterwards and there were some Africans there who had just been at the game. They saw me and said, ‘my sister, my sister!’”

Both players are researching their native tribes and planning a trip to Africa with other Sparks. “I want to bring basketball to my tribe,” Hoffman said.

This fall, the Africa Channel will air a special on the Sparks players and the project, during which it will reveal the origins of two more volunteers, Candace Parker and Noelle Quinn. The channel did a similar show with NBA players earlier this year.

What are your thoughts on what Paula Madison and the L.A. Sparks are doing in this project? Have you ever wanted to know your own roots?

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