Fame is one thing. Leadership, on the other hand, is a much greater challenge -- it requires not just visibility, but using that platform to make an impact. Fortune's World's Greatest Leaders list is an effort to identify global leaders who both reach a large population and take an active role in leading by example.
On the list of 50 distinguished individuals, five come from the sports world -- including four with ties to basketball. Here's a look at Yao Ming, LeBron James and the other top leaders in sports.
Greatest Sports Leaders Of 2015
As a professional basketball player, Yao Ming was already used to breaking barriers. He became one of the first Asian athletes to break into the NBA, and remains the most successful: He was an eight-time All-Star and a five-team All-NBA team selection.
After his retirement in 2011, Yao went to college. He has also risen to prominence as an animal rights activist, battling shark-fin hunting and the global illegal ivory trade, which sends 70 percent of its product to China. Perhaps his great influence has been on Chinese society, where citizens are increasingly comfortable discussing the country's social issues in a public spotlight.
James' primary status is as the greatest player of his generation, and he's also one of the most marketable athletes in the world. By virtue of his visibility alone, the two-time NBA champion wields a powerful platform for advocacy and addressing important issues.
While growing more comfortable as a voice contributing to issues of racial tension in America, James is also taking on more tangible forms of leadership: He is the newly elected vice president of the NBA's Players Association, a role that will take on great importance during the league's next labor agreement negotiations.
Many sports fans won't even recognize the name of Courtney Banghart, who until recently was hardly known outside of the world of women's basketball. But as the head coach of Princeton's team, which just completed an undefeated regular season, Banghart has become a prominent leader in the sports world.
Perhaps the strongest example of Banghart's leadership has been the discipline she demands of her players. Where athletes are often exempted from the rigorous academic standards faced by Princeton's regular student-body, Banghart expects her players to be as accomplished in the classroom as any other student. So far, that approach has paid off.
Barely one year into his job as commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver has become a recognizable sports figure -- and an undisputed leader. Some of that recognition came under inglorious circumstances, when Silver -- then just three months into his job -- had to address racist comments and behaviors made by then-L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
Beyond his widely praised handling of the Sterling fiasco, Silver has also brought a fresh, creative vision to the NBA, proposing several changes that could help keep the league relevant and adaptive. Among those potential reforms include shortening the regular season, tweaking the current playoff structure and helping introduce legal sports betting regulations.
Once a baseball player at Boston College, Pete Frates is the highest ranking athlete on Fortune's list of the world's 50 greatest leaders. Credit that to Frates' activism for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Frates, who suffers from the neurodegenerative disease, is credited with inventing the Ice Bucket Challenge.
Frates' 'Ice Bucket Challenge' became the most successful viral campaign in history, raising $115 million for the ALS Association. Frates has received numerous honors for his advocacy. At an exhibition game this spring between Boston College and the Boston Red Sox, both teams wore jerseys featuring Frates' name and his number, 3.