Noah Lyles had a brilliant week at the World Athletics Championships, winning gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay, but it’s safe to say that he’s not universally popular among his fellow US sports stars.
Lyles, who is one of the most quotable athletes in the world, took a jab at the NBA after winning his third gold. “I watch the NBA finals and they have ‘world champion’ on their head. World champion of what? The United States?” Lyles said.
He had more to say on the NBA, whose most recent champions are the Denver Nuggets.
“Don’t get me wrong. I love the US – at times – but that ain’t the world.” He compared the NBA to track and field where “we have almost every country out here fighting, thriving, putting on their flag”.
Lyles, who embraces the limelight, punctuated his comments with a few laughs and the quotes appeared to be lighthearted. That didn’t stop some NBA players commenting on an ESPN social media post on Lyles’s comments.
“Somebody help this brother,” wrote Kevin Durant, who has been named the NBA finals MVP twice.
Durant’s Phoenix Suns teammate Devin Booker, who played in the 2021 finals, responded with a facepalm emoji. Aaron Gordon, who won the NBA finals with the Nuggets in June, wrote: “Whatever … I’m smoking buddy in the 200m.”
US sports leagues such as the NBA, NFL and MLB often describe their winning teams as “world champions”, provoking the ire of fans in other countries.
However, while the NBA contains only teams from the US and Canada it does have a solid claim to be a global league. The overwhelming majority of the world’s best players compete in the NBA and the league’s last five MVP awards have gone to Joel Embiid (Cameroon, 2023), Nikola Jokic (Serbia, 2021 and 2022) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece, 2019 and 2020).
Jokic was also named the MVP of this year’s NBA finals. At the start of last season, the NBA said it had 120 international players from 40 different countries. Meanwhile, the current men’s Basketball World Cup will crown the international champion team – with the USA strong favourites.