You would think Team USA gold medalists would stick together. Instead, the newly crowned fastest man in the world, Noah Lyles wasted his coronation at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest by dumping on the NBA. More specifically, he took aim at the National Basketball Association taking the liberty of referring to their playoff champs as the world champions. Lyles thinks the moniker is unearned.
“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?” said Lyles.
His comments were so asinine that instead of getting offended, Kevin Durant, Bam Adebayo, Damian Lillard, and even Juan Toscano-Anderson spent the weekend cracking jokes at his expense. In a perfect world, Lyles would have been drug-tested right there and then. Now we have to ask ourselves, does Noah Lyles know ball? The early returns indicate that he doesn’t. The gap between the NBA and Spain’s Liga ACB, the Turkish Basketball Super League, Russia’s VTB Basketball Bundesliga, Italy’s Serie A, France’s LNB Pro A, Australia’s National Basketball League, and any leagues I neglected to mention is as wide as the gap between MLS and the Premier League.
I could cite the NBA’s reputation for being the destination for Europe’s premier talents, or how European MVPs have journeyed overseas to max out as reserves and role players, or how The Association pays more lucrative salaries than all but one other sport in the world. But I won’t due to time constraints. Has the man never seen Space Jam? If an advanced alien species pointed a planet-killer at us from outer space and threatened to blow us out of existence unless we beat them in a 5-on-5, we definitely aren’t sending Real Madrid or CSKA Moscow.
If you want definitive evidence of how superior the NBA is, then witness Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, an NBA cast-out channeling Kobe Bean Bryant against the best players in Europe. Against Greece, the Kobe comp ramped up when he wore an armband on his forearm coupled with a low buzzcut, then deposited 24 points against Greece with blinding flair off-the-dribble as well as a variety of silky-smooth turnarounds.
In Game 2 of group play against New Zealand, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson continued performing like his body was inhabited by the spirit of Kobe. Through two games, he’s making defenders look silly averaging 31 points and nine rebounds on 54.3 percent shooting.
In the NBA Jefferson was a 6-foot-6 guard whose perimeter bag was so empty that he was forced to carve out a role as a small-ball four. Even then, he had to find his niche as a defensive stopper who averaged double-digit points in only one season and never shot better than 30 percent from distance. Any questions you have about the gap between the NBA and the best of the rest should be answered right there. How deep are NBA benches? Hollis-Jefferson wasn’t even a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
The flow of talent between the NBA and their nearest International competition has been completely one-sided. They send their best, the NBA lends its roster gunk. The only time NBA All-Stars play overseas is when their athleticism has declined so dramatically that they need a league where they can still feel like the man in. The few who do leave in their prime often morph into franchise players.
For example, Nikola Mirotić left the NBA after several seasons as a role player in Milwaukee and Washington and has already earned a Spanish League MVP while leading FC Barcelona to a pair of Spanish League titles. Even reserve EuroLeague guards like Mike James and Shane Larkins have been hooping well enough to get statues built in their likeness. Whether you agree with Lyles’ thoughts on whether the NBA champs deserve the world champion label is a basketball IQ test. Choose wisely.
You’d be hard-pressed to discover a highly-ranked team in the FIBA World Cup whose best players aren’t in The Association. During international play, Evan Fournier transforms into French Harden. The cream of the international crop all play in the NBA and Team USA is deep enough to bag up the rest of the world with its JV roster. There’s no need for a basketball Champions League because the NBA is the center of all life in the basketball universe.
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