FOR A HEALTHY HOMELAND
He's the striker on the Ivory Coast's soccer team, nicknamed Les Éléphants, and there's this thing about elephants: "We never forget," says Drogba, who for five years has passed along every penny of his millions in endorsement income to his eponymous foundation, which supports health and education in his homeland by funding outfits ranging from orphanages to the Red Cross. "That's part of our national culture, to always give back."
For nearly all of Drogba's years as an elite footballer, the Ivory Coast has been plagued by civil strife that has made needs back home particularly acute. But in 2009 his philanthropy took on a new sense of purpose. Before a World Cup qualifier against Malawi, a wall outside the stadium in Abidjan collapsed from a crush of fans, killing 22 and injuring 133. Drogba, who spent much of his childhood in France, was accustomed to European standards of health care; when he visited hospitalized survivors in Abidjan, he was shocked by the conditions. Then a more personal experience redoubled his despair. A cousin, Stephan Zebe, was diagnosed with leukemia, and Drogba spent months trying to procure a visa so that Stephan could be treated in France. "The day after Stephan got his visa, he died," says Drogba, 34, who now plays his club ball in China. "For me it was a big lesson."
Drogba devised a plan, still years from completion, to deliver good, affordable care through five clinics around the country. By placing facilities in both the mostly Christian, government-aligned south and the mostly Muslim, rebel-affiliated north, he will be true to his identity as a tribune of national unity, a humanitarian who transcends political factions. "It will help prove to people that we're moving forward," says Drogba, who also serves on his country's postconflict truth and reconciliation commission.
The $4.8 million from his contract with Pepsi jump-started the health clinic project, while endorsement income from Nike, Samsung and Orange telecom, as well as money from Drogba's autobiography and DVD sales, have also gone into the foundation's coffers. Drogba's foundation will break ground on the first clinic, in Abidjan, in March. "After that, we want to wait a year or two to see if we're doing everything right," he says. "To learn, and then begin to build the other ones."
Drogba could easily follow the path of another soccer star with a social mission, former Liberian great George Weah, and run for office. But he recognizes that the standing he enjoys would only be diminished by politics. "My philosophy is to try to use the power of football to unite people," he says. "It's what I do for a living. I'm lucky to have this chance to help others who need it."
NOURISHMENT IN THE DOMESTIC DESERT
The irony didn't escape Hill: Here he was, the Duke-educated son of two high-powered professionals, an NBA All-Star whose career depended on what he put in his body, and he had no grasp of the fundamentals of nutrition. "My first year in the league it was literally fast food every day," he says. Then career-threatening foot injuries led him to food-sensitivity testing and such vigilant attention to diet that, at 36, he didn't miss a game, thanks in part to a regimen heavy on almonds, whole grains and goji berries.