Noah Lyles doubles down on ‘world champion’ comment after criticism from Kevin Durant and Drake

Noah Lyles of the United States reacts after crossing the line to win the men's 4x100m final at the World Athletics Championship at National Athletics Centre in Budapest. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

Noah Lyles of the United States reacts after crossing the line to win the men's 4x100m final at the World Athletics Championship at National Athletics Centre in Budapest. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

Published Aug 30, 2023


Newly-crowned sprint king Noah Lyles insisted on Wednesday that he had received some support for his comments criticising NBA stars for declaring themselves "world champions" for winning the elite basketball league.

American NBA stars were quick to rip Lyles on social media after the treble gold medallist from the World Athletics Championships in Budapest last week said he was offended when US sports league champions like those in the NBA declare themselves "world champions" after capturing a national crown without facing global rivals.

"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," Lyles said.

"World champion of what? The United States?"

The NBA fills rosters with top talent from around the world, and its one franchise outside US borders, the Toronto Raptors, took the NBA crown to Canada in 2019.

The past five NBA Most Valuable Player awards went to players born in other lands -- Greece's Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2019 and 2020, Serbian center Nikola Jokic of reigning NBA champion Denver in 2021 and 2022 and Joel Embiid of Cameroon this year.

NBA players would argue that they compete in the world's best league and deserve the label of global best.

"Somebody help this brother," wrote Phoenix's Kevin Durant, a two-time NBA champion and two-time NBA Finals MVP in leading the criticism.

Lyles, speaking ahead of Thursday's Diamond League meet in Zurich, said no NBA stars had been in direct contact with him.

"Not the ones that weren't happy with it!" Lyles said, insisting he had been supported not only by some foreign basketballers but also American football players within the NFL.

"I'd say from the world side, I've got a lot of support.

"I know quite a few basketball players because my massage therapist works on them. She's actually working with the French team right now who are at the world basketball tournament.

"A lot of them have the same idea as me. When they go back home their countries aren't celebrating them as world champions, they're celebrating them as NBA champions."

Still listen to Drake

Lyles also insisted that he had not been put out by criticism from Canadian rapper Drake, a global ambassador for the Raptors.

"He thought this speech was gonna be so hard in the mirror the night before... now the whole league doesn't rate u," Drake wrote on Instagram, accompanied with three laughing face emojis.

Lyles responded: "Of course I listen to his music. I'm not going to be offended by that wee comment."

In his tirade in Budapest, Lyles made the point that NBA teams only beat other US-based clubs or the Raptors, not great squads from around the world.

"Don't get me wrong," Lyles said. "I love the US -- at times -- but that ain't 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."

The "world" champion is decided by national teams at the Basketball World Cup, now being contested in Asia with a US squad of NBA players competing for the crown.

It's an issue that doesn't connect to other US sports leagues as much.

Major League Baseball draws similar comments for its best-of-seven final being called the World Series when no teams from Asian or Latin American leagues can play for the title.

The NFL is generally recognised as world champion largely because American football is played so few other places in the world at that level, even Canada's league using some key different rules.

The world championships in ice hockey are generally played during the NHL playoffs, with national teams in the global event generally getting NHL talent only after clubs are eliminated from the title chase.


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