In the midst of the 2023 FIBA World Tournament this autumn, 24 year old American Olympic sprinter, Noah Lyles, fired some shade at the talent of NBA players and what he believes is a lack of an international competition in the NBA. “You know the thing that hurts me the most is that I have to watch the NBA Finals and they have ‘world champion’ on their head. 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. That is not the world. We are the world. We have almost every country out here fighting, thriving, putting on their flag to show that they are represented. There ain’t no flags in the NBA.” Lyles said this statement just weeks before Team USA’s elimination from the FIBA basketball tournament, which came in a devastating loss to Germany in the Semifinals. 

Lyles is not just any ordinary athlete. He won the 100m and 200m events at the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary. This accomplishment is special because it makes him the first male sprinter to win both races since Usain Bolt. So, it’s not like Lyles is just an opinionated fan who is making a blanket statement on the differing competition in professional sports; he has the experience to back up his claim. 

Lyles uses the example of Team USA losing in the FIBA World Tournament to explain that American basketball players are not the best players in the world. But, this argument is utterly mind blowing. The United States brought 12 players to the Philippines for the tournament, and out of those 12 players, only 3 of them were ever named all-stars(Tyrese Haliburton, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Brandon Ingram). Lyles could argue that this is USA’s fault for not selecting the best of the best and instead bringing a group of rising stars in the league. The coaches of USA must have thought that this group could bring the trophy home. After all, other stars were sitting out from other countries: Victor Wembanyama from France, Jamal Murray from Canada, and Domantas Sabonis from Lithuania. Spain was one of the top contenders heading into the tournament, but they ended up getting upset by Latvia, a country that has a population of 1.8 million people, and is definitely not known for their basketball prowess. So according to Noah Lyles, Latvia must be more talented at basketball than Spain. But, is this really true? 

Noah Lyles poses for a photo before the World Athletics Championships. Photo: Wikipedia

Lyles’ argument is preposterous and is built on no factual evidence. The NBA is composed of athletes from all over the world and remains one of the most international sports leagues in North America. In fact, over the last five years, the recipient of the MVP award has been an international player: Giannis Antetokounmpo(2019, 2020), Nikola Jokić(2021, 2022) and Joel Embiid(2023). There are also many other international stars in the league: Luka Dončić, Shai Gilgeous Alexander, Kristaps Porzingis, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Pascal Siakam, who are all the best players from their respective countries. These names are just a portion of the great international players who have played in the NBA. In the 2022-23 season, 24% of the rostered players were born internationally. This all goes to show that the NBA is composed of the best players from around the world, which is why the winners of the NBA Finals are known as World Champions. 

The best players on every successful team in the FIBA tournament were NBA players. Germany, the champions of the tournament, were led by Toronto Raptors role player, Dennis Schröder. He was the MVP of the tournament and was never even an all-star in the NBA. This shows the level of difficulty in the NBA, and how even bench players in the NBA can get buckets on any given person who cannot make the league.

The disappointment from the United States basketball community was high after coming short of a gold medal. After the disappointment of U.S’s elimination, Lebron James and other NBA superstars have decided to play for Team USA at the 2024 Olympics in Paris to prove that NBA players really are the best in the world. Along with Lebron, Stephen Curry, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, and Jayson Tatum have all expressed their interest in playing. Additionally, Embiid, who is Cameroonian, has eligibility to play for Team USA and plans to suit up with them in 2024.

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