Kings’ Sasha Vezenkov weighs in on NBA ‘world champs’ debate originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area
Several members of the Kings organization have voiced their opinions about whether or not victors of the NBA Finals should be considered world champions — a debate recently sparked by U.S. track and field star Noah Lyles.
But perhaps no one inside Golden 1 Center is better equipped to speak on the subject than Sacramento newcomer Sasha Vezenkov, the reigning EuroLeague MVP fresh off the greatest season of his career playing with Olympiacos out of Greece.
“Everybody has an opinion about that, but let’s be realistic, like, if the champions of the NBA play against the champions of the EuroLeague, what will be the result?” Vezenkov told reporters during his introductory Kings press conference Thursday. “So, I think it’s [obvious]. But everyone has an opinion; everybody can think whatever he wants.
“I know that for basketball, NBA’s just something different. Of course EuroLeague is tough. Of course we can see that a lot of Europeans are playing in the league, and recently, some of the MVPs of the NBA are Europeans. But, like I said, it’s a totally different league, and it’s something that’s on the top.”
The argument began last month when Lyles, after winning three gold medals in Budapest during the Track and Field World Championships, questioned why Finals winners receive and wear hats that say “world champions” on them.
“World champion of what? The United States?” Lyles asked. “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.”
As expected, the response from NBA players was strong and swift, with Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and more lending their voices to the fray with sentiments similar to Vezenkov’s. Kings star De’Aaron Fox engaged in a back-and-forth on social media with former NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III about the topic, and Sacramento general manager Monte McNair applauded Vezenkov for his response to the question.
“Sasha handled this one well,” McNair told Sactown Sports on Friday. “I will just say I don’t care what they call it, but as long as we’re raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy, I will be very, very happy at the end of the year. NBA champion, world champion, just plain champion, I don’t think Kings fans will care.”
Vezenkov, whose NBA rights were acquired by the Kings last year in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers, made the jump to U.S. basketball on a reported three-year, $20 million contract this summer after watching Sacramento’s historic 2022-23 season.
The 28-year-old has seen both sides of the argument, cementing himself as the best player in Europe this past season and now hoping to prove he’s an NBA talent during his rookie campaign with Sacramento. And while the EuroLeague was tough, it’s clear Vezenkov believes his new journey will be even more difficult.