Noah Lyles starts world championship war: Is he right?

Noah Lyles of the United States (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
Noah Lyles of the United States (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images) /

When the Detroit Pistons won the NBA championship in 2004, they proudly raised a banner that said “World Champions” in the Palace of Auburn Hills. Rasheed Wallace even bought the team world championship belts, which he recalled recently on an episode of Underdog NBA. American sprinter Noah Lyles might take exception.

Lyles took on what seemed to be the entire NBA yesterday when he scoffed at the idea that the NBA champions were called “world” champions when all of the teams are in the United States (he must have forgotten about the Raptors).

It didn’t take long before the clip turned into a world war on social media, and many NBA players, including Kevin Durant (who must live on Twitter/X), Devin Booker, Damian Lillard and Tyler Herro disagreed with Lyles’ assessment.

Others (mostly from European countries) defended Noah Lyles, who is technically correct but leaves plenty to debate.

Is Noah Lyles right about the NBA Championship?

As an American who has long lived outside of the United States, this is a conversation I have had roughly 10,000 times, mostly with British and European soccer fans who think it’s absurd that Americans insist on calling everything a “world” championship even though the entire world is not involved.

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I have a brother-in-law who brings this up just about every time he’s had more than three pints, thinking this will be the time he finally catches me in a “gotcha” moment about the “World Series” or the winner of the Super Bowl being called the “World Champion” even though the United States is the only country that plays the sport.

In these cases, I totally agree that it is ridiculous. No one else in the world (with few exceptions) knows or cares what baseball is and even though there are plenty of nationalities in the league, it seems dumb to call it the “World Series” when teams from the US and Canada are the only ones playing.

It’s even worse in American football, which is largely despised outside of the U.S. (trust me, it’s true) and played by even fewer countries than baseball.

The NBA is a little trickier considering that basketball is widely played across the world and there are leagues all over Europe, Asia and Africa. I don’t think anyone would argue that the NBA isn’t by far the best league, and these days, it has a decidedly international feel.

The last five MVPs were born outside of the US and more players every year are coming from all over the world. The NBA represents the very best basketball players in the entire world, not just the countries who know how to play it like baseball and football.

But Lyles does have a point, as it’s not just a matter of semantics, but the American exceptionalism that the rest of the world hates, the idea that everything in the US is the “best” in the world even though that’s often quantifiably not true.

It’s a silly argument really, but it does speak to some wider issues the rest of the world has when it comes to American sports and Americans in general.

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