Giannis Antetokounmpo is on Noah Lyles’ side: The NBA champions should not be called “world champions,” according to the 2021 NBA Finals MVP.Lyles, an American sprinter, made this point on Aug. 25 after winning the men’s 100- and 200-meter world titles in Budapest, Hungary,of Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, Aaron Gordon, Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox, PJ Tucker, Tyler Herro, Tyus Jones, Udonis Haslem, Kendrick Perkins, Austin Rivers, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Denzel Valentine and Drake.
“He received so much backlash for saying the obvious,” Antetokounmpo said during an appearance on “48 Minutes,” a podcast hosted by former Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Ross Geiger.
Antetokounmpo’s comments in full:
“I wanted to back him up so bad. He received so much backlash for saying the obvious. But I think some people don’t understand it. I think it’s — I don’t know, maybe it’s like — sorry, how can I say this politely? Maybe it’s just like an arrogance thing, you know? I don’t think in any other sport you are called the world champions. In soccer — which is way bigger than the NBA, more popular than the NBA — when they win the Champions League, they say you are the UEFA Champions League champions or whatever the case might be. They don’t say the world champions. When they win the World Cup, they play against the USA team, they play against the teams around the world, countries around the world, then they say they’re the world champs. But in the NBA, you say they’re the world champs.
“For me, I think Manu Ginobili said it the best — I don’t know if he ever, maybe I should not be saying this, but I don’t know if he ever went public — he said that, because they won in 2006, Argentina won the World Cup, ‘I’m the world champ. You guys are the NBA champs, but I’m the world champ. Because I went and beat the Greek team that had beat the USA team the previous game. I beat the Spanish team. I beat the Brazilian team. So I’m the world champ.’ I agree. At the end of the day, in order for you to be the world champ, you have to beat the world. I understand the NBA is the best league in the world and the talent in the NBA, it’s the best that you will ever see in your life — it’s not even close, the best league in the world — but we cannot say you are the world champ because you play in the best league in the world.
“I don’t say that 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 those teams and say, ‘Yeah, I’m the NBA champ,’ ‘I’m the VTB champ,’ ‘I’m the Euroleague champ,’ ‘I’m the Greek champ,’ ‘I’m the Spanish champ,’ ‘I’m the French league champ.’ And when you got, like for example now, I think Germany won the World Cup, correct? Yeah, Germany can say, ‘Yeah, we are the world champs.’ They just won the World Cup. I think they beat the USA team, correct? Yeah, they beat the USA team and then they went in the finals and beat the Serbian team, so, in my opinion — his name is Noah, right? Man, I might get some backlash from this, but I really do not care: I totally agree with him. Because I feel like he’s like in the world stage. He’s the best in the U.S., for example, and then he goes and competes against other athletes from other countries and then he thrives in that, so that’s when you are the world champ. When you compete against everybody in the world.
“So, long story short, I totally agree with him.”
One correction: Ginobili led Argentina to a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics, not the 2006 FIBA World Championships (as the FIBA World Cup was then known).
Otherwise, though, Antetokounmpo is on solid ground. In 2010, four years before Gregg Popovich won his fifth NBA title and 11 years before he won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, the San Antonio Spurs coach said the same thing, per the Boston Herald:
“There are no world champions in the NBA, so anybody that has the flag up that says world champions is not correct,” said Popovich prior to last night’s 94-73 Spurs win. “It’s not appropriate.
“The world champions, I believe, are the Spanish team right now. USA is the Olympic champion. The Lakers are the NBA champion. 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.”
When someone mentioned Toronto, Pop said, “There’s a team in Canada. That’s true. The world’s bigger than North America. I know sometimes we as arrogant Americans don’t respond to the rest of the world, but it’s true. There’s a big world out there.”
This is not a popular point of view among NBA players, but Antetokounmpo was not the first to stick up for Lyles. During the FIBA World Cup a couple of weeks ago, Evan Fournier said he agrees with the world champion sprinter, via ESPN:
“I think it’s the point of view of a lot of Americans that, when they win at home, since it’s the best championship in the world, automatically you’re a world champ. I can understand that point of view, but I agree that it should be just ‘NBA champ,’ personally. And if you participate in the World Cup or even the Olympics and you win, you have a right to call yourself ‘world champion.’
“The way I look at it, it’s NBA champions — for sure they’re the best team, but it’s just a title. You know what I mean? It’s not that big a deal, it’s just a title. But for him to say that, I understand where he is coming from because he’s an athlete and he just won world titles.”
In other star-player-weighs-in-on-a-podcast news, for about 30 seconds on the latest episode of “Podcast P with Paul George,” it sounded like the forward who won gold with Team USA at the 2016 Olympics was on the same page as Lyles (and Antetokounmpo, Popovich and Fournier).
“I think he’s right, technically,” George said. “Yeah, 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 USA athlete, I think he’s right, in terms of world champion, competing on that scale and winning the gold medal.”
Then George reversed course: “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.”
Hmm. It’s almost like all of this is all a matter of semantics and people didn’t need to get so heated about Lyles’ comments in the first place.