When track and field star Noah Lyles questioned why people refer to NBA title winners as "world champions," everyone from Drake to Kevin Durant rushed to have their say. One analyst says it's a case study in American exceptionalism.

Who is he? Lyles is a 26-year-old track and field athlete from the United States.

  • Last week, he won multiple events at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary — including the 100- and 200-meter sprints.
  • He was the first man to take home both titles since Usain Bolt in 2015.

What's the big deal? There has been a lot of attention paid to Lyles since — but not for his wins.

  • At a post-meet press conference, Lyles was asked about how to grow or improve his sport, to which he replied:

You know the thing that 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? 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.

  • The comments generated plenty of takes from every corner of the internet. A number of basketball players took offense and made it known via Instagram comments, while other international sports fans thought Lyle had the right idea.

Want more sports journalism? Listen to the Consider This episode on whether Lionel Messi with change Major League Soccer's rep.

What are people saying? Lots.

Kevin Durant took to the Instagram comment section to say, "Somebody help this brother." Draymond Green wrote, "When being smart goes wrong." And even Drake also gave his two cents:

Gary Al-Smith, a sports journalist who focuses on African sports, told NPR he "never thought an American athlete would be so open minded." Here's Al-Smith on why many other countries share Lyles' sentiment:

I would say a disproportionate amount of Americans actually believe that the NBA is — or that the winner of the NBA is — the world champion, because people from multiple nationalities, or the best NBA players in the world play in, the NBA.

That is very, very odd for me, because as a sports journalist, when you hear anything being described as the "world championship," automatically in your mind, it's [including] different countries competing.We never ever think of a world championship being about one team with multiple nationalities.

And here's Al-Smith on how American exceptionalism finds its way into athletics:

American exceptionalism gave self confidence to Americans in any sphere of endeavor to make them believe that if you are American and you are good at what you do, you can make it anywhere.

Stuff like that comes to athletics as well, because American athletes always come like with, not a chip on their shoulder, [but] with an air of, "We are good because we are the best in America." And to be fair, I mean, America is a continent, isn't it? So if you are the best at what you do in America, most likely you will be among the best in the world, most likely most of the time.

So, what now?

  • NPR sought an interview with Lyles but did not hear back by time of publication. But his X account shows him reposting those defending his stance.
  • And the track star thinks that in order to help his sport grow, they've got to flaunt how inclusive they are in comparison to many others: "We've got to be presented to the world."

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