There is perhaps no greater frustration for the expat sports fan living in the United States than the tendency of American sports fans and institutions to overstate the importance of the domestic leagues.
The World Series remains the most obvious example of American sports myopia; 30 teams from one country (sorry, and one from Canada) competing for a "world title." Just this month, the Giants received their 2012 championship rings engraved with the words 'World Champions." The quotation marks are, naturally, my own.
Even the tendency to refer to an NBA championship-winning team as "world champions" (blithely ignoring the dozens of other nations that contain basketball leagues, not to mention the highly competitive and multi-national Euroleague) is a little grating. While the NBA and MLB are undoubtedly the foremost competitions in their respective sports, it seems a little odd to not even allow the rest of the sporting world the opportunity to contend for the title of world champion.
So is it a media construct or reflective of a widespread insularity? I think primarily the former.
Consider both Sports Illustrated and ESPN's respective lists of great or notable moments in sports (not merely American sports, but ostensibly all sport). Shockingly few of the moments on the SI list involve triumphant non-Americans; only five out of 76, by my count: Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile, Usain Bolt's 2008 Olympic gold medal double, Roger Federer winning his 15th Grand Slam, Diego Maradona's magnificent second goal against England at the 1986 World Cup, and Nadia Comaneci's perfect 10 at the 1976 Olympics.
ESPN's top 100 (devised in 2004) is even worse: you have to get to No. 40 to find a victorious non-American (Borg beating McEnroe, an American, at Wimbledon in 1980) and to No. 44 to find a moment with no American prominently featured (Annika Sorenstam appearing at a PGA Tour event in 2003, and even she has dual citizenship as an American and Swede).
Only three non-Americans appear in the bottom 50: two Canadians (Wayne Gretzky and Ben Johnson) and a Brit (Derek Redmond limping around the track at the 1992 Games). It's little wonder that the NBA and MLB get a little overblown when an esteemed sports network thinks that 95% of the biggest sporting moments between 1979 and 2004 involved only Americans.
This isn't a new thing, of course. Consider the moment known as "the shot heard 'round the world", commonly applied to a 1950s Major League baseball game which wasn't even broadcast outside the US.
Too often we hear terms such as "the world watched" applied to events like college basketball, which are of practically no interest to anyone outside the 50 states. "The nation watched" is grand enough, particularly when we're talking about a nation of over 315 million people.
Arguably, it isn't hurting anyone to overstate American sports' importance, but it's indicative of a narcissism for which which American culture is frequently criticized. It's hyperbole we can do without.