Atlanta has some of the best athletes of all time, but they never get as much love as athletes in cities such as Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas. I’m an Atlanta native and a huge sports fan, so that’s why I’m writing this article. I look past my bias when gaging careers. I looked at what an athlete did while in Atlanta and this is why Deion Sanders didn’t make the cut. While he is arguably the greatest defensive player in NFL history, Atlanta sports radio show host Steak Shapiro of 92.9 The Game reminded me that Deion’s time in Atlanta was relatively short and that he only spent five years in Atlanta.
In this list I factored in accolades and the eye test (watching the player play), but the numbers don’t lie. Throughout the article you will be surprised by who I have chosen and the reasonings so without further ado let’s get straight into it.
5. Matt Ryan – NFL, Atlanta Falcons
At the number five spot we have the greatest Atlanta Falcon of all time, Matt Ryan. Matty Ice has earned his spot on this list for his work throughout the 14 years spent with the team. While others would disagree with having Ryan on this list, they would just be wrong. The Falcons never had back to back winning seasons until Matt Ryan, not even at the height of the Michael Vick era. He set a winning standard for the team forever. Matty Ice won the fanbase back after Vick, a former fan favorite, got suspended. Ryan has won more and has more impressive passing numbers than Vick.
His accolades include 2016 league MVP, 2016 Offensive Player of the Year, 1st Team All Pro, 4 Pro Bowl appearances and Offensive Rookie of the Year. Ryan is 7th all time in passing yards, 8th in passing yards per game, and 9th in passing touchdowns. His career totals include 62,792 passing yards and 381 passing touchdowns. He has led the league in many metrics in his amazing 2016 MVP season. While a championship has evaded Matty Ice, he isn’t the main one to blame for the infamous Super Bowl loss to the Tom Brady New England Patriots. He had a few good playoff runs throughout his career.
4. Chipper Jones – MLB, Atlanta Braves
At the number four spot, I placed the most loved Atlanta Brave of all time, Chipper Jones. Chipper was a leader who loved the game and dedicated his life to play. Chipper is respected throughout baseball for his skill and grit. He spent 19 years in the league and all were with the Braves. In my conversation with Atlanta-based sportswriter DeMarco Williams (SLAM Magazine) he stated “Chipper Jones was able to live up to the moment and perform when it mattered most.” Jones took a pay-cut to save the Braves money and to have a better team around him.
Chipper Jones is top 3 in many offensive statistics on the Braves leaderboards such as WAR, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, home runs, total bases, hits, runs scored, RBIs, and runs scored. Jones is a hall of famer, league MVP, World Series champion, two-time Silver Slugger, 8-time all star, and won the 2008 batting title. Chipper Jones is regarded as one of the greatest third basemen of all time. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018.
3. Evander Holyfield – Former Professional Boxer
Evander Holyfield is really slept on regarding all-time great boxers. The Real Deal moved to Atlanta when he was 4, and joined the Boys & Girls Club at 8 years old. This is where he met Carter Morgan, the man who introduced him to the field of boxing. Holyfield is the only boxer in history to win the undisputed championship in two weight classes in the three belt era. He reigned as the undisputed champion at the cruiserweight in the late 1980s and heavyweight in the early 1990s. A few names that fell victim to The Real Deal are Mike Tyson (1996), Riddick Bowe (1993), Larry Holmes (1992), George Foreman (1991), Dwight Muhammad Qawi (1986 and 1987), and Michael Moorer (1997). “Evander Holyfield always came ready to fight and perform.” — DeMarco Williams (Writer for Slam Magazine).
2. Dominique Wilkins – NBA, Atlanta Hawks
The Human Highlight Film takes the number 2 spot on my list. Nique spent 13 seasons with the Atlanta Hawks and had quite the career. Nique played with the Hawks from 1982 to 1994. Nique is portrayed by the media as only a dunker but his game is far more than just good dunks. Nique had a good midrange game and could defend most players in the league. While Dominique and the Hawks were second fiddle to the Larry Bird led Celtics, Isiah Thomas’s Pistons, and the Jordan led Bulls, the Hawks were always competing. The lack of championships isn’t due to Wilkins’ bad performance but a bad situation. He was a hero for the city of Atlanta. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006 and has a statue outside the current Hawks stadium.
Nique’s averages while being with the Hawks are 26.5 points per game, 6.9 total rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.4 steals, and shooting splits of .467% from the field, .311% from three, and a free throw percentage of .813%. He played 882 games with the Atlanta Hawks. The team went downhill after he was traded in the 1993-94 season. The city wept and cried because the icon and hero was sent away. Nique has nine All Star appearances, 7 All-NBA appearances, and is a member of the best basketball team ever assembled in the 1992 Dream Team. Nique is also a member of the NBA 75th Anniversary Team.
1. Hank Aaron – MLB, Atlanta Braves
For the number 1 spot I choose Henry “Hank” Aaron. There isn’t much to be said about Hank Aaron that we all don’t already know, but I still talk about his career. Hank Aaron is easily regarded as a top 10 baseball player of all time by the vast majority of people familiar with the sport. Hammerin’ Hank has 755 home runs in his career and was the first to surpass Babe Ruth’s 714 home runs. He is the true all-time home run leader. The only two players you can say are better than Hank are Willie Mays and the G.O.A.T. Babe Ruth.
Hank Aaron spent 21 years of his 23-year career with the Braves. Throughout his career he had 755 home runs (first or second all-time, depending on who you ask), 2,297 RBIs (most all-time), 6,586 total bases (most all time), and 3,371 hits. In most offensive statistics for the Braves, Hank Aaron leads and Chipper is second or third. Hank was truly an all-time great baseball player. Not many can say they are on the level of Hammerin’ Hank. The eye test and numbers give Hank Aaron the number 1 spot as the undisputed greatest athlete in the history of Atlanta sports.
In conclusion, this list is subjective and there are many Atlanta athletes you can say are top five in the city’s history. I had a blast talking to those I called and interviewed and researching information. Below are the sources used that aren’t linked in the article above. Thank you for reading my article.