Noah Lyles raised some eyebrows and drew some criticism when the U.S. track star said NBA champions shouldn’t call themselves “world champions,” but Paul George is one of the league’s players who agrees with him at least somewhat.
“I think he’s right, technically, yeah,” George said. “The NBA, we have guys from all over the world, right? The game is more and more becoming an international game with the international talent that’s coming into the league.
“But from his point of view, being a U.S.A. athlete, I think he’s right in terms of ‘world champion’ competing on that scale and winning the gold medal. But at the same time, I think you have a right being in the best, the NBA being the best of the best in basketball with all these other countries and national players being a part of our league. Yeah, you’re a world champion.
“But I don’t think there’s a wrong answer either way.”
Lyles recently won gold in three events at the World Athletics Championships, and after his final triumph, he brought up the NBA topic.
“You know what 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? 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. We gotta do more. We gotta be presented to the world.”
The press conference raised the hackles of several NBA players and fans, including Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard and Draymond Green, among others. Lyles later expressed how much he loves the NBA but held firm to his perception of the difference between a national competition and world competition.
The comments coincidentally came with several NBA players competing in an international basketball tournament, the 2023 FIBA World Cup. Team USA placed fourth in the event, losing the third-place game to Canada while Germany won gold with a victory over Serbia.
George has never won an NBA championship, but the current Los Angeles Clippers star won a gold medal playing for Team USA at the 2016 Rio Olympics, so he may be willing to express an opinion that other similar players would not. An eight-time All-Star who’s about to enter his 14th NBA season, George actually suffered a serious leg injury while playing for Team USA leading up to the 2014 FIBA World Cup and missed all but six games for the Indiana Pacers in the 2014-15 NBA season.
Lyles is likely to remain in the spotlight, as he is expected to be a key figure in the upcoming 2024 Paris Olympics. He also is likely to encounter several NBA players who will be there to compete, with LeBron James recently hinting at playing in the event, reportedly with ideas of forming a superteam.
Meanwhile, the 33-year-old George can focus on trying to help the Clippers win a title this season, a feat that would make them world champions in the eyes of many despite whatever objections Lyles may have.