“World Champions Of What?” Do American League Champions Deserve The “World Champion” Moniker?

Micah Kim ’26 in Sports | September 15, 2023

In the vast domain of sports, accolades and titles hold high value. Winning a championship is the ultimate goal for both teams and individual athletes. However, a debate was sparked by six-time track and field world champion sprinter Noah Lyles, when he claimed, “what hurts [him] the most is [that he has] to watch the NBA finals and [the NBA champions] claim to have World champion on their heads.” Although this statement enraged many athletes and sports fans across the country, it proposed an interesting question: Should American league champions have the right to claim the title of world champion? 
In many different cases, we have seen examples of the best athletes from all over the world coming to the U.S. to compete in American leagues. For example, the National Football League (NFL) boasts quite a large number of international players, among them being London-born Osi Umenyiora and Efe Obada of Nigeria, winners of the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Month and Week awards respectively. Foreign superstars have also dominated the National Basketball Association as well. The “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo has won an NBA Defensive Player Of The Year, the Best Male Athlete at the Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly (ESPY) awards, and even the coveted NBA Most Valuable Player Award. Serbian Center Nikola Jokić is another foreign superstar, who, in addition to having won the NBA Most Valuable Player Award in back-to-back years, has also won titles such as the ESPY award for Best NBA Player, an NBA Championship, and the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player. In fact, the past five league MVPs have been foreign players, and generally, there are more players foreign in the NBA than ever before. The fact that these leagues represent the absolute pinnacle of their sport, with peak athletes from all different nationalities coming all the way to America to play in them, it is clear that these leagues are the best in the world. Because of this, we can see why these winning teams of such competitive leagues deserve the title of world champion. 

The recent globalization of American sports leagues contributes to the claim that the champions of these leagues should be given the title of world champions. In recent years American sports have garnered some of the largest followings across the world. Super Bowl viewership extends far beyond the U.S. borders, and the NBA has fans in many foreign countries such as China, Mexico, and Argentina, with China especially being an extremely large economic market for the NBA. The global appeal that these leagues have to their fans only serves to show that their champions should be considered world champions. In addition the NBA, NFL, and MLB (Major League Baseball) often host games in various foreign locations such as London, Mexico City, Japan, Mexico, and Australia. These international ventures display American sports on a global scale, reinforcing the claim that American champions are world-class. With such wide global viewership and popularity, this would encourage an even bigger influx of foreign players, contributing in turn to an even more representative and competitive league than now.

In addition to foreign athletes competing in American leagues, Americans have long been dominant in international competitions. The Olympics, for instance, is a competition where America continues to dominate, especially in the realm of basketball. Though not unbeatable, the U.S. Basketball Men’s National Team has historically been the most successful team in international competition, achieving medals in every single tournament they have entered, with 16 of those 19 medals being golds. While it is true that in the most recent FIBA (International Basketball Association) World Cup tournament, the USA was knocked out by Germany, the Americans still hold the record with five victories in the tournament’s history, higher than any other country. We have also seen foreign leagues serve as a stepping stone on a star player’s path to the NBA. Before joining the NBA, Slovenian point guard Luka Doncic dominated in the EuroLeague. At just 19 years old, Luka led Real Madrid to the 2018 EuroLeague title, as well as becoming the youngest player to ever win the EuroLeague MVP and EuroLeague Final Four MVP. This dominance we see from American League athletes in foreign competitions only serves to show the whole new level of competitiveness that the U.S. brings to the table in terms of their athletics.

In their respective events, Americans remain in the top tier. In domains such as the NFL, NBA, and MLB, the high level of competition within these leagues, various efforts towards globalization, in addition to superiority of these athletes in international competition, contribute to the validity of labeling American sports league victors as “world champions”, and as long as these federations continue to attract such large amounts of global attention, this claim remains rational.