Noah Lyles’ World Champion Comment Sparks NBA Debate

Basketball and track and field are two sports that don’t often cross paths, but last week, Noah Lyles made a comment that didn’t sit right with some of the biggest names in the NBA. NBA Players confronted him, which began a discourse about whether the winner of the NBA Finals should use the world champion title. Because the discussion is in full swing, here are a few points to consider.

Noah Lyles’ World Champion Comment Sparks NBA Debate

How the Controversy Began

American sprinter Noah Lyles became the first person since Usain Bolt to pull off the triple gold at the 2023 World Championships, winning the 100-meter, 200-meter, and 4×100-meter events. After becoming a world champion, Lyles voiced his opinion about how certain leagues use the “world champion” title when there is no reason to.

“I have to watch the NBA Finals, and they have world champions on their heads,” Lyles said. “World champion of what? The United States? Don’t get me wrong. I love the U.S. at times. But that ain’t the world.”

“We are the world. We have almost every country out here fighting, thriving, and putting on their flag to show they are represented. There ain’t no flags in the NBA.”

When NBA players across the league saw the interview, they chimed in to make their voices heard. Kevin Durant wrote, “Somebody help this brother.” Devin Booker also added a face-palm emoji in response to Lyles’ divisive remarks.

Aaron Gordon even went so far as to say, “Whatever… I’m smoking buddy in the 200m.” Damian Lillard, Draymond Green, Bam Adebayo, and many others also gave their two cents on Lyles’ comment. The one thing in common between every NBA player’s reaction was that the team that wins the NBA Finals is, in fact, the world champions.

What Makes a World Champion?

Lyles’ opinion is technically true if you use the textbook definition of a world champion. There is no international competition in the NBA that includes foreign athletes from different leagues. To earn the world champion title, Lyles had to defeat fierce competitors from various foreign nations. The title must be earned in a competition that includes teams from around the world; it does not automatically come with being the best team in the world.

However, when it comes to basketball and the NBA, this might not be the case. You might be saying, “But the word national is literally in the name of the league; how could it be global?”

Basketball is a worldwide sport with leagues across the globe, with the best players from every country making the journey to the United States to play in the NBA. The NBA is a league where the best basketball players from around the world compete, making it the world’s premier basketball league by far. So, in a sense, the NBA Finals do qualify as a World Championship because the top players in the world play for teams in the NBA.

Why Lyles’ Opinion Shouldn’t Apply to the NBA

Since 1984, a handful of NBA teams have been selected nearly every year to play exhibition games against teams from different international leagues. Over the last four decades, NBA teams have won 161 of the total 178 international exhibition games played. And the NBA teams aren’t just barely escaping with a win, either, they are dominating.

For example, in September 2019, the Houston Rockets destroyed the Shanghai Sharks by 69 points, 140-71. In October of the same year, the 32-win Washington Wizards put on a clinic against the Guangzhou Loong Lions, beating them by 58, 144-86.

Or when an Oklahoma City Thunder team led by primarily bench players like Lindy Waters III, Eugene Omoruyi, Aaron Wiggins, and Tre Mann defeated the Israeli National League team, the Maccabi Ra’anana, by 47 points, 144-97 in October of 2022.

Even some of the worst teams in the NBA have the talent to dominate foreign opponents. NBA teams don’t need to compete against international opponents to win the title of world champions because the NBA is already home to all of the world’s top teams.

It is evident that the NBA is a global league by simply looking at some of the players. Six of the top eight MVP candidates from last season were foreign athletes. All five of the last regular-season MVP winners were foreign athletes—even this year’s first overall draft pick hailed from France.

While the NBA does not host an international tournament, NBA players do participate in the Olympics and FIBA World Cup. And since the United States Men’s National Team began adding NBA players to their roster in 1992, the US competed in 15 events, winning ten and earning a medal in 13 with a staggering record of 111-12.

So, does a team actually become the world champions after winning the NBA Finals? They don’t compete against any international teams or in global events, so by definition, they aren’t world champions.

To be crowned a world champion you must compete against the rest of the world and emerge victorious. But when the best players from around the world already compete in one league, are the winners of that league world champions? In my opinion, they are. Regardless if they have a flag on their jersey or not, the NBA Finals winner deserves the title of world champion because of the league’s prestige, the talent of American and International players, and the United States’ dominance in international competitions.

Main Image: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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