American exceptionalism surrounding their sports has been brought to the forefront once again, this time in regard to basketball and the NBA. Ben Broadbent comments on how such a controversy has been stirred up by one of their very own…
Recently, World Champion US sprinter Noah Lyles made a comment in his post-victory interview where he stated that the winners of the NBA shouldn’t call themselves the World Champions.
Like the other big American sports, baseball and American football, the USA is virtually the only country in the world where basketball is a major sport. However, this in no way gives them the authority to claim that they are world champions. Especially when there are truly global basketball competitions, such as the Basketball World Cup which is currently underway, or the Olympics, which America does not always win.
A deeply flawed logic which some of the smartest and most influential minds in America have fallen for
The general argument from those attacking Lyles is, to paraphrase: The NBA has set the global standard and is generally considered to be the highest quality of basketball across the world. Therefore, the NBA champions have the right to call themselves the best in the world, and World Champions. This is a deeply flawed logic which some of the smartest and most influential minds in America have fallen for.
Lyles has caused a major stir in the American media. Stephen A Smith, arguably the biggest NBA journalist and personality on First Take said that Lyles was ‘ignorant’ for his perspective. Smith has since apologised and backtracked from this standpoint but maintains that the NBA Champion has the right to call themselves ‘World Champions’ based on the relatively high percentage of non-American players. It’s not just the journalists that have picked up on this comment though, the NBA players themselves took offense at Lyles’ valid criticism of their league, not the individuals.
Where did this attitude come from? Why do these American superstars feel so strongly about a fellow athlete’s legitimate question? Clearly, Lyles touched a nerve. For some reason these superstar athletes are insecure about their competition losing respect. Nobody ever questioned the competition of the NBA, just the technical terms of whether or not they deserve the title of ‘World Champions’. Maybe there is a wish that the game was more globally attractive than it is.
American exceptionalism is an entrenched part of their society
Basketball is still a long way from becoming as successful as any of the other major global sports. According to sportytell.com, basketball is the 7th most popular sport in the world with an estimated 825-million-person fanbase. Basketball pales into relative insignificance next to the truly global sports like football, roughly 3.5 billion. However, American exceptionalism is an entrenched part of their society. Given that the stats suggest basketball is not a truly global sport yet, the NBA has decided, in order to sound more grandiose, that the winner of their competition is the World Champion simply because their domestic league is the richest and best regarded.
The best way to demonstrate the arrogance of the NBA players and major journalists is to compare it to other league-based sports. Let’s look at football. It is generally agreed that right now the highest standard of football anywhere in the world is the UEFA Champions League:
This takes the best clubs from across Europe and puts them into one competition. Winning the Champions League is one of the toughest achievements in global sport, unless your name is Scott Carson. Still, the winners are only crowned ‘European Champions’. To be considered World Champions, the team must win the Club World Cup, a competition you qualify for by winning the Champions League.
The winner of the Champions League has far more right to call themselves World Champions than the winner of the NBA
The NBA has no alternative, so they have skipped the competition and handed themselves the title anyway. It could even be argued that the winner of the Champions League has far more right to call themselves World Champions than the winner of the NBA. The Champions League is at very least a continental competition, not a national one.
It is not fair to suggest this is every person associated with the NBA. Greg Popovich, arguably the greatest coach the NBA has ever seen, questioned this very topic back in 2010. He stated: ‘It doesn’t make sense for an NBA team to call themselves world champions. I don’t remember anybody playing anybody outside our borders to get that tag. Isn’t that true? I keep waiting for somebody to tell me I’ve missed something.’
Happily, we will find out who the true basketball World Champions are on the 10th September, when the final of the FIBA World Cup will be held in Manila. Unfortunately, no British team qualified for the finals. We will be simply spectators.
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