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World Athletics Championships. Budapest 2023.

Noah Lyles of the United States celebrates the team’s gold medal win in the Men’s 4x100m Relay Final during the World Athletics Championships, at the National Athletics Centre on August 26th, 2023 in Budapest, Hungary. | Source: Tim Clayton – Corbis / Getty

Following Team USA’s upset loss on Friday to Germany in the FIBA basketball tournament, social media users suggested American track star Noah Lyles on Friday was getting the last laugh in an ongoing debate centered on how and why NBA teams that win the league title call themselves “world champions.”

Germany pretty much dominated the entire way of the FIBA semifinal game with a 113-111 final score that belies the true nature of the mostly one-sided contest that was played in Manila, Philippines. Although Team USA scrambled to make it a close game at the end, they were playing catchup from behind a double-digit deficit for most of the second half.

As it became increasingly apparent that Germany would win, social media users seemingly came out in force to post photos and video memes that invoked Lyles’ name weeks after the world-class sprinter came under fire for NBA players calling themselves “world champions” after winning the U.S.-based league championship.

USA v Germany: Semi Final - FIBA Basketball World Cup

Team USA leaves the court after losing the FIBA Basketball World Cup Semi-Final game between USA and Germany at Mall of Asia Arena on September 8, 2023, in Manila, Philippines. | Source: Ezra Acayan / Getty

In case you missed it, Lyles didn’t hold anything back about a week ago when he offered up unsolicited criticism of how NBA players call themselves “world champions.” Lyles was speaking from the world championships in Budapest, Hungary, where he was fresh off a win in the 200-meter race.

“You know what 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?” Lyles asked reporters.

“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,” Lyles said of the world championships. ” 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.”

NBA stars immediately fired back, taking umbrage at Lyles’ remarks.

“Somebody help this brother,” NBA All-Star Kevin Durant, also a member of the U.S. Olympic team, wrote on social media.

Former NBA player Juan Toscano Anderson added: “Last time I checked, the NBA was the best competition in the WORLD.”

But Friday’s loss by Team USA to Germany, which came just days after Team USA lost to Lithuania, was presented on social media as a form of validation for Lyles’ fateful words.

The truth about where the world’s best basketball players are likely lies somewhere in the middle between the competing claims from Lyles and the NBA players.

Yes, it is true that when taken in totality, the NBA’s players — a population that is increasingly diversifying with non-U.S. citizens — are the world’s greatest basketball players. But, to Lyles’ point, all of the NBA’s teams are based in North America and, even when they compete outside of the continent, it is typically against each other unless it’s an exhibition game that doesn’t count against the standings.

So, in a way, both sides are right — and wrong.

But Friday’s loss by Team USA to Germany certainly didn’t help the NBA’s case and likely provoked a wry smile to creep across Lyles’ face, at the very least.

Germany advances to play against Serbia while Team USA and Canada will now play for third place.


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