Noah Lyles made headlines a few weeks ago when he called out American basketball players for calling NBA Champions “world champs”. The NBA is the best league in the world, but is he right to be upset?
Are NBA Champions “World Champs”?
Recently, headlines were made when Olympic track and field sprinter Noah Lyles went on the record criticizing NBA players calling their champions, “World Champions.” As the FIBA World Cup was going on and Team USA was a big part of it, it was a relevant topic as America is usually among the world’s best.
When the FIBA tournament ended without an American title, many were quick to throw back to Lyles’ comments, saying that he was right and NBA players didn’t have the right to crown themselves for an American league with one Canadian team added. While not a direct comparison, it’s an interesting question to ponder in the quiet depths of the NBA offseason. It is not a direct comparison, but I believe it is pretty accurate that NBA players can call themselves world champions.
The biggest reason NBA players can call themselves world champions is just the talent gap between the NBA and every other league. At this point, the best players in the world are all in the NBA, including even the best non-American players, such as Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Luka Doncic. The NBA has always been the face of the basketball world, and there is no secret about that.
This can be shown by the fact that although they didn’t win FIBA in 2023, the American Men’s National Team almost always wins with rosters of NBA guys that practiced together for a few weeks. The talent gap is so big that they can usually overcome international rosters with better chemistry.
If you look at other international teams, you will also usually see that their best guys are from the NBA. If you look at the German National Team, guys like Dennis Schroder and Franz Wagner were able to play star roles, when they only play role player roles in the NBA. Being an okay NBA player basically makes you a star everywhere else in the world. Because of the talent gap, even if NBA teams technically haven’t beaten the best teams in other countries, it is fair to call them World Champions.
It’s About Respect
If you want to talk about semantics, then the argument against calling NBA Champions the world champions could be out of respect for other leagues. Even though they may be better, it is not technically correct and does not respect the hard work of players in say, the Euro League.
That is probably why Noah Lyles feels slighted, even as an American he plays in the international arena of sports. He may feel as though countries should stick to their own lane. I see the argument for this, but also think no one was really slighting Lyles here.
It feels as though NBA players do not say this enough to make it a real issue, and it kind of just came out of nowhere. I think most basketball fans know that the NBA is the best league in the world but also that other basketball players are good, and that the world championships are FIBA and the Olympics.
I do not think it is plausible that an NBA team would lose to any other team in the world in a seven game series. However, out of respect for global athletes, just stick to knowing we are the best in the world and call them NBA Champions.