Yao Ming may be an NBA star, but the most popular basketball player in China is Kobe Bryant—he's plastered on billboards and even once had his own reality show on Chinese TV. The Lakers guard has made a deliberate push in the world's largest nation, and he's now establishing the Kobe Bryant China Fund to benefit education and health. "I think he can be a one-man State Department," a financier working with Bryant told the Wall Street Journal.
Sports have long played a role in China's diplomacy, from ping-pong to the Olympics, and Bryant has used his prowess on the court to strengthen ties between the two nations. In addition to his China fund, his US-based foundation is teaching Chinese language and culture to middle-school students. "I want to help these kids see the possibilities of China," Bryant says. "The world is much, much bigger than what they see around them."