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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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How four words caused a divide between basketball fans, and how it pitted the NBA against the world

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Keith Allison/WikiCommons

Kevin Durant shoots a free throw during the 2014 Oklahoma City Thunder and Washington Wizards match up. 

“World champion of what?” As soon as U.S. sprinter Noah Lyles uttered these words, the NBA world unleashed hell on him and divided the sports community (temporarily.) How did we get here? What happened? Let’s rewind a second.
Fresh off a dominant performance at the World Athletics Championships where he scored three gold medals, there was only one thing on his mind: the NBA and how they call themselves world champions.
“You know what hurts me the most is that I have to watch the NBA Finals, and they have ‘world champion’ on their head,” 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.”
Immediately, the NBA’s elites, such as Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Damian Lillard took to social media to voice their disagreement.

As seen above, NBA players were not at all pleased. Who’s in the right? Is it Lyles or the NBA players?
Yes.
That is the answer. Let’s dissect what I mean.
Let’s not get it twisted, the NBA is the premier basketball league in the world, with the best basketball players from all over the globe. But that’s just it. It’s from all over the world and international players have been on the rise with the likes of Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo to name a few. However, they all go to the NBA because it’s the place to be. It’s the most competitive league in the world, so in that regard, it’s fair to say the NBA players are correct. No international team is stopping the Denver Nuggets or Milwaukee Bucks.
However, there is also actual international play where NBA players perform in, such as the Fédération Internationale de Basketball (FIBA) Basketball World Cup and of course, the Olympics. And what’s that? The U.S. lost in this year’s FIBA competition? So it looks like Lyles is right, right?
Well … just a little bit.
The U.S. squad for the 2023 FIBA World Cup, while solid, is not the best that the NBA has to offer. Let’s be honest, Bobby Portis should not be representing the U.S. in any capacity. It’s not a dig. It’s just that the NBA has more talented players. The U.S. won the 2020 Olympics with All-Stars like Booker, Bam Adebayo and Jayson Tatum amongst legends like Durant and Lillard. These are the players thatshould be representing the U.S. in international play.
So, while the U.S. did lose and Lyles does have a slight point in that the U.S. aren’t actual world champions, the NBA is the best place for basketball that the world has to offer and it takes place solely in America. It also seems like Lyles’ comment has irked the NBA’s biggest star: LeBron James.
For the upcoming 2024 Olympics, James has committed to playing for the U.S. and has enlisted the help of other NBA superstars. Joel Embiid, Durant, Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis are just a few that have committed while other All-Stars have expressed interest as well. It looks like James and company will set out to both prove Lyles wrong as well as bring the U.S. back to the top of the pecking order.

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