Noah Lyles’ condemnation of the National Basketball Association Championship claims sparked a debate: What exactly makes a world champion?
Team USA’s failure to medal at 2023’s FIBA World Cup despite having the most NBA talent left room for the league’s world dominance to be further questioned.
After sweeping gold in the 100, 200 and 4×100-meter dash races at the 2023 World Athletics Championships, American sprinting star Noah Lyles left no doubt that he was the short-sprinting world champion this year. Lyles took exception to the “undeserving” sharing his World Champion distinction. In an interview following his world championship wins, Lyles aimed at NBA teams calling themselves world champions. Lyles questioned, “World champion of what? The United States?”
Lyles’ criticism drew backlash from star NBA players including Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Damian Lillard and current NBA champion Aaron Gordon.
The large debate these exchanges created in sports media is centered around whether a world champion is designated based on a worldwide competition where countrymen represent their homeland or if a world champion is simply the champion of the best league in the world.
Popular ESPN media personality Stephen A. Smith initially commented on Lyles’ claim via ESPN’s “First Take,” insisting that “Lyles just came across as flagrantly ignorant.” Smith has since apologized for his statement.
Others agreed with the sprinter’s sentiments, such as NBA champion and former league MVP Giannis Antetokounpo. In his appearance on the “48 Minutes” podcast Antetokounpo defended Lyles’ claims, “He received so much backlash for saying the, like, obvious,” he said.
Antetokounpo also said, “I don’t think in any other sport you are called the world champions… When they win the World Cup, they play against the USA team, they play against the teams around the world, you know, countries around the world, then they say world champs.”
Team USA’s fourth-place finish at the World Cup, despite its roster full of active NBA players, calls into question the dominance of the NBA from a talent perspective.
Following the disappointing finish, many supporters were unconvinced that the NBA Championship does not hold the status of the match that crowns the world champion. Senior architecture major from Philadelphia, Cameron Mack, expressed that the roster the United States sent to compete is an imprecise representation of the world basketball balance.
“Maybe if we sent some all-stars, he’d have a point. We’re sending bench players, so you can’t really compare us against the world without our best players,” Mack said.
For others, the loss at the tournament confirmed that the NBA Championship has simply not merited the distinction.
“I don’t think they’ve earned the title,” Sabien Sykes, a senior electrical engineering major from Bowling Green, Kentucky, said. “The Nuggets are the best team in the world. They won the league with the best players. But to be a world champion, you have to do it on a world stage. The team from the U.S. just didn’t represent the best of the NBA this year,” he said.
The validity of Lyles’ statement generally fluctuates from person to person based on one’s definition of a world champion. If anything, Team USA’s disappointing finish might open a different conversation exploring whether or not all of the best talent is in the NBA, after first-place Germany had several key contributors who aren’t current NBA players.
Rumblings of an Olympic “superteam” led by Lebron James have started to circulate ahead of the 2024 Games in Paris, in response to the most recent World Cup showing. Roster decisions for Team USA will be exciting to follow, as this conversation looks to have sparked rare interest from NBA talent in participating in global competitions.
Copy edited by Diamond Hamm