Track and field sensation Noah Lyles ignited a social media controversy over the weekend with his assertion that NBA champions do not deserve the “world champion” moniker.
Last week in Budapest, Hungary, Lyles, age 26, won three gold medals at the track and field world championships, including victories in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints. At a news conference on Friday, he was asked how to develop or enhance his sport. In response, he distinguished himself and other track world champions from athletes in American professional sports organizations, such as the NBA.
Lyles stated, “The thing that hurts me the most is having to watch the NBA Finals while they wear ‘world champion’ on their heads.” What is the world champion of? The United States of America?
“Don’t misunderstand me. Occasionally, I adore the United States, but that is not the universe. This is not the universe. We are the universe. Almost every nation is present, contending, prospering, and flying their flag to demonstrate they are represented. There are no cautions in NBA games.”
Several current and former NBA players, including Phoenix Suns sensation Kevin Durant, reacted negatively to Lyles’ remarks. In response to social media posts containing his comments, they replied.
“Somebody help this brother,” Durant commented on Instagram Sunday evening.
P.J. Tucker, a forward for the Philadelphia 76ers, added, “You can’t make this stuff up.”
Former NBA player and ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins wrote of Lyles, “Put his brain in a bird and the bird will start flying backward!!!”
Austin Rivers, a free agent guard, was among those who argued that because the greatest basketball players in the world compete in the NBA, “winning (an) NBA championship qualifies as world champions.”
“I’m not sure which is more cringe-worthy,” Rivers continued, “(Lyles’) remark or his voice and delivery.”
Meanwhile, Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon was less diplomatic: “Whatever… I’m smoking in the 200 meters.”
Obviously, lost in the online discourse is the fact that the two disciplines are structured entirely differently. Track and field is primarily an individual sport in which elite-level competitors represent their country and an apparel sponsor. Obviously, the NBA is a team sport in which players primarily represent their team and host city.
Despite the fact that both sports attract exceptional talent from around the world, NBA games are only contested in the United States and Canada and do not include teams from top divisions in Spain or France. Track competitions are conducted across the globe, requiring athletes to compete against the finest in the world on their home territory.
After referencing the NBA, Lyles argued that track leaders must do a better job of making this distinction and promoting the sport’s genuinely global nature.
“We must do more,” he stated. “We must be introduced to the world.”