I can only hope that some of Team USA’s younger stars are able to reflect and internalize the valuable lessons made available to them during their disappointing FIBA World Cup run. Namely, it would be nice if they came away understanding that talent isn’t always everything and hubris will not make you a winner.
Team USA was ousted from vying for a World Cup gold medal in a semifinal loss against Germany, which went on on to win the 2023 World Cup on Sunday. Then, with one more chance at some sort of redemption, the U.S. was bounced from medal contention completely, losing to Canada in the bronze medal game.
There’s no doubt that Team USA had the most talented team and that the collection of talent was greater than that of its opponents. But just because the U.S. was able to field an impressive roster didn’t mean that the other teams were going to lay down and just let Team USA walk all over them — Team USA apparently didn’t get that memo.
Ahead of some of the group stage games, Team USA’s leading scorer, Minnesota Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards, who made his national team debut this year, said he wasn’t “really worried about those guys” when referencing Montenegro and Lithuania, the U.S.’s next two opponents.
Well, Team USA scraped by against Montenegro before losing to Lithuania. Maybe Edwards should have been worried about “those guys.”
It seemed that Team USA might have learned a bit from its early arrogance, continuing to win en route to a semifinal matchup with Germany. But I couldn’t help but think about something else that had happened in late August.
Warning: What you’re about to read is incredibly childish.
Noah Lyles, an American professional track and field star who specializes in the 100- and 200-meter sprints, had just won three gold medals at the World Athletic Championships. He laughed as he noted that he watches NBA players don clothing that reads “world champion” after winning the NBA Finals even though it’s a not a global league.
“World champions of what?” Lyles asked with a laugh. “The United States?”
While at the FIBA World Cup, Indiana Pacers standout Tyrese Haliburton, who played on Team USA this year, was asked what he thought about Lyles’ comments.
“I really don’t understand the point of it because the NBA is the best league in the world,” Haliburton said. “It wasn’t the most intelligent response.”
Haliburton was backed by numerous NBA players and fans who took to social media to clap back at Lyles, repeating Haliburton’s sentiments and sometimes even taking it further. Current NBA champion from the Denver Nuggets, Aaron Gordon, took to X, previously called Twitter, to say that he would beat Lyles in the 200 meters.
First of all, no. Gordon would not beat Lyles in a race of any kind and I hope that he said that in jest.
Secondly, let’s get a few things straight. It’s been a few years since the winners of the NBA Finals have worn hats or shirts that read “World Champions.” But, Lyles is not wrong about that language being used.
You’d be hard pressed to find an NBA championship ring that doesn’t say “World Champions” and many banners that hang in arenas also say the same thing.
For now, let’s ignore that Lyles was wrong about the hats, because even those who wore the hats failed to notice the incorrect statement. Lyles is correct that NBA champions are not world champions. It’s the National Basketball Association, not the World Basketball Association. And, we have all the proof that we need in the fact that Germany is the current basketball world champion.
Yes, the NBA is the best basketball league in the world, with talent from across the globe. But that doesn’t mean that the league hosts international competition between countries and can declare world champions.
You know who I didn’t hear disagreeing with Lyles? Any of the NBA players who hail from countries outside the U.S. and play for their national teams. Like Dennis Schroder (Toronto Raptors) and Daniel Theis (Haliburton’s Pacers teammate) who play on the German national team, or Bogdan Bogdanovic (Atlanta Hawks) who plays for Serbia, the team that took second place in the World Cup. Or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and RJ Barrett who play for the Canadian national team.
There are, of course, some people who would say, “Well, if the U.S. had been playing their best team, they would have won.”
Not so fast. Would the U.S. have a better chance if the starting lineup included LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Stephen Curry (who reportedly are eyeing the 2024 Olympics — news that came out just 24 hours after Team USA lost in the World Cup)? Absolutely.
But, what about Serbia? They made it farther than Team USA did in the World Cup and they did so without Nikola Jokic, who is arguably the best player in the world and also an NBA champion. Germany was playing without Maxi Kleber and won.
Team USA will certainly be upgrading the roster ahead of the Olympics, but so will the other countries. Talent and hubris are not going to cut it.
Basketball is more of a global game now than it has ever been, and the young stars on Team USA need to realize that the path is not paved in gold and the wins will not be handed to them just because they hail from the country that features the NBA.