American sprinter Noah Lyles received a lot of criticism when he questioned why professional athletes in leagues like the NBA in the United States call themselves world champions, but at least one star player is is by his side.
Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is from Greece, addressed Lyles’ comments in an interview with 48 minutes podcast.
“I want to support him, you know,” Antetokounmpo said. “He received a lot of backlash for speaking the, like, obvious.”
He continued to point out that “I don’t think in any other sport you are called the world champions. You know, like soccer, which is bigger than the NBA, more popular than the NBA. If the Champions League, the UEFA Champions League, you know, champions….they don’t say world champion, you know. When they won the World Cup, they played against the USA team, they played against of teams around the world, you know, countries around the world, then they say world champs.”
Antetokounmpo also explained that he knows “the NBA is the best league in the world and the talent in the NBA is the best you’ll ever see in your life. It’s not even close.”
He also added that, “you know, I’m not saying there are other teams out there that they can beat the Denver Nuggets, for example. I’m not saying that. But you have to respect, you know, that teams and say yes, I am the NBA champion, I am the VTB champion, I am the EuroLeague champion, I am the Greek champion, I am the Spanish champion, I am the French league champion.”
Lyles’ comments came after a gold medal-winning performance at the 2023 World Athletics Championships, and he questioned why the winners of leagues based mostly in the United States are seen as “world champions.”
Several NBA players, including Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard and Devin Booker, appeared to have no issue with the comment:
Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and other NBA players responded to Noah Lyles’ comments. pic.twitter.com/O1eApkNpFG
Yet Antetokounmpo said, “I might get some criticism for it, but I don’t care. I totally agree with him.”
Lyles discussed some of the backlash he received in a recent interview TMZ Sports.
“I think we’re missing the point,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s about how I see what we do in our national championships – I want the same thing for our world champions. And we’re a sport where we bring of the most medals every year—and nobody seems to know because they don’t care.”
There is something to be said about the NBA featuring many of the best players in the world, including international stars like Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokić, Luka Dončić and 2023 No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama.
That’s not always the case in soccer leagues, where stars are spread across different countries and play against different competition.
The winner of the NBA Finals is widely seen as the best basketball team in the world for the given season, and there is no such thing as the Champions League in soccer where that team has to compete against winners from other countries.
However, semantically it is hard to argue against Lyles’ point.
And Antetokounmpo is gone.