Few people would think of the National Basketball Association as a major force in combating epidemics such as AIDS and malaria.
But the NBA is working steadfastly, and smartly, on the front lines of these fights as an integral part of the global health community, right alongside partners such as the United Nations and the Centers for Disease Control.
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By leveraging the remarkable reach of its brand and the star power of its players, and advancing innovative models for joint action across sectors, the NBA has been an extraordinary leader in the corporate fight to end disease.
That's why today, June 8, as the NBA is prepares to crown either the Lakers or the Celtics as the 2010 NBA champions, the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, TB & Malaria—a coalition of businesses that brings private-sector assets and expertise to the fight—is honoring the NBA as one of the leading lights in global health and development as the winner of this year's Richard C. Holbrooke Business Leadership Award.
The NBA matches commitment with impact. With its games reaching 215 countries and territories in 41 languages, and with players from 35 countries on NBA rosters, the league's worldwide reach is formidable. The league capitalizes on the disease-fighting potential of its international footprint, deploying results-driven programs and partnerships that have helped protect the lives of millions of people around the planet.
As a co-founder of the Nothing But Nets campaign—which has distributed more than 3 million anti-malaria bed nets to people in need—the NBA leverages the popularity and broad reach of NBA and WNBA teams and players to raise money and generate awareness.
In 2007 and 2008, NBA players Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Shaquille O' Neal joined others as part of "American Idol" Gives Back and helped raise money for Nothing But Nets, as well as other health-related programs. Nothing But Nets has raised more than $31 million for disease-fighting programs since 2006.
The NBA and its players also have a direct line to many of those who are most vulnerable to HIV infection. Beginning with Magic Johnson, who announced his positive HIV status in 1991, the NBA and its players have been trailblazers in educating young people around the world about HIV prevention, testing and treatment.
In 2007, the NBA partnered with the Global Business Coalition, HBO and the Kaiser Family Foundation to create a series of TV, radio and print public service announcements to promote HIV testing in the U.S. A PSA from that campaign went on to win the 2008 Public & Community Service Emmy Award. Other PSAs promoting HIV/AIDS awareness, produced in partnership with UNICEF and UNAIDS, featured star players such as Steve Nash, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol.
The NBA is active on other critical health issues as well. For example, it partnered on a PSA featuring Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant with the Ad Council and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in support of First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" initiative to fight childhood obesity.
Leadership at the NBA begins at the top. We're proud to work with NBA Commissioner David Stern, a standout leader on HIV/AIDS who has used his platform to raise awareness and mobilize resources. Stern was a founding member of the GBC Advisory Board. And in 2008, he joined more than 100 other CEOs to sign the coalition's HIV nondiscrimination pledge. The pledge has since been used by GBC and our partners to show governments where corporate opinion leaders stand.
We're at a crossroads in the fight against global epidemics. We're in danger of backsliding on HIV/AIDS and not making enough progress on malaria. Governments and international organizations cannot do it alone. Right now, the private sector has to take on what's typically thought of as public-sector responsibilities. By joining forces with governments, international agencies and nonprofits, we will reach more people, more quickly, more effectively. The NBA is taking on those challenges and is prepared to do even more.
Jed Levine is associate, communications & external affairs, Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, TB & Malaria.