As the NBA season starts this October, 7-foot-6-inch Houston Rockets superstar Yao Ming has a loftier goal than a league championship. He’s trying to reduce HIV stigma in his homeland, China. Ming will be pictured with Chinese actor Pu Cunxin and HIV-positive children in 200,000 posters plastered throughout the country. The game plan: prove that negative and positive people can be friends and work together to fight the virus.

As reported in March (search “Blood Money,” by Regan Hofmann), China has long hidden and denied its surging infection rate, which has been fueled mainly by its tainted blood supply. The NBA, itself tainted by a referee scandal, is trying to boost its own image by joining the project, which includes The China AIDS Media Project, UNDP and UNICEF.

“Prevention [of AIDS] among young people is going to be the most significant contribution to the control of education in Asia, and involving young role Yao Ming is critical,” says UNICEF China spokesperson Ken Legins. That’s a slam dunk.