In just the latest indication of the NBA’s growing global presence, Fortune magazine has named three NBA-related figures among its just-released list of the world’s 50 greatest leaders. Nobody from any of the other three major American sports is featured.
Here’s what the magazine had to say about Chinese basketball icon and former Rockets center Yao Ming:
Yao Ming could have returned to China for a quiet retirement. Instead, the 7-foot 6-inch former NBA star has spoken out against various animal abuses—including his country’s illegal ivory trade (China accounts for about 70% of global demand) and the practice of hunting sharks for shark-fin soup. But the impact of his efforts has been far bigger than the headlines he generates. Following Yao’s lead, other famous Chinese are starting to talk openly about the country’s problems—resulting in a more public social debate.
Also featured was some guy named LeBron James:
With two NBA titles, James didn’t need to return to Cleveland—a place without a championship, let alone hope of a quick one. But, he said, he wanted to bring a group together and help them “reach a place they didn’t know they could go.” The Cavs, atop their division as of mid-March, are reaching. Meantime James, newly elected VP of the NBA’s Players Association, will face a fresh leadership challenge as labor negotiations with the league get underway.
As well as NBA commissioner Adam Silver:
Just three months into his term, Adam Silver won accolades for defusing a crisis by banning L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling (till then one of Silver’s employers) from the NBA for his racist comments. The new commish is energetic and creative. He’s talking about shortening the preseason to alleviate the grueling demands on players and tweaking the playoff structure to improve competitiveness. He has even endorsed a form of legalized betting, which could pay off for the league.
Obviously, the accomplishmets of James, Silver and Yao speak for themselves. It’s a testament to the NBA’s growth and forward-thinking approach to a variety of issues that these people get featured in lists like this when, say, Roger Goodell does not.