Some days, you just never know what you’re going to run into. Opinions are everywhere and, thanks to Twitter, even the dumbest opinions have somehow become valid. Especially with sports fans.
The point is, all opinions are valid. Every one of your opinions is valid because it is yours. It’s doesn’t have to be an opinion based in fact; it just has to be yours.
Take the title of this article for example: “Are These The 4 Most Important Athletes In Atlanta History?” When I first saw the list of Hank Aaron, Deion Sanders, Dominique Wilkins and Tommy Nobis, I thought that there might be more who could be added. However, it is a pretty solid list. Do you agree?
When we think of the original “Hammer,” Hank Aaron is the man we think of. There is no question that April 8, 1974 will go down as the biggest day in Atlanta sports history. Bigger than the Olympics in 1996, bigger than the Braves winning the World Series in 1995. It was the day Aaron hit home run number 715 off Al Downing of the Dodgers at Fulton County Stadium. As a native of Mobile, Alabama, Aaron endured so much during that time in American history. Death threats, hate mail…Aaron went through it all. However, he has emerged as one of the greats, not only in the game, but in America. He has won many distinguished awards including being named one of the “100 Greatest African-Americans” in 2002 and is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded that same year, the highest award a civilian can receive. His statue stands in front of Turner Field and will remain in Atlanta when the Braves move to Cobb County. A new statue will be erected at the new Sun Trust Field.
How many athletes can claim they played in both the Super Bowl and the World Series? One. Deion Sanders. He played for the Braves in the 1992 World Series. He was also a member of the San Francisco 49ers when they won Super Bowl XXIX and a member of the Dallas Cowboys’ championship team in Super Bowl XXX. Four of his nine years in baseball were with the Braves. As the fifth overall pick by Atlanta in 1989, Sanders played the first five years of his NFL career with the Falcons. He was an eight time All Pro, named to eight Pro Bowls and was a member of the 1990’s NFL All-Decade Team. After his retirement, he was inducted into the Falcons’ Ring of Honor and the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has since become very much a pop icon with his television work. Is he the best overall athlete to ever play sports in Atlanta? Brian Jordan may have something to say about that but, yes, Sanders probably is.
The former Texas Longhorn linebacker will forever be etched in the Falcons’ record book as the first ever drafted by the team during its 1966 expansion season, and was the NFL Rookie of the Year in that first season. He played for one team, the Falcons. He went to five Pro Bowls, was named to the 1960’s NFL All-Decade team and is a member of the Falcons Ring of Honor. Although the Falcons say they do not officially retire a player’s number, no one else has worn the #60 since Nobis retired. In 1977, after his retirement, he became the founder of the Tommy Nobis Center (now known as Nobis Works), providing vocational training to persons with disabilities. He has won the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. award for working with the Georgia Special Olympics and numerous community service awards in the Atlanta area. The fact that Tommy Nobis is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is, I think, a disgrace.
The “Human Highlight Film” was, and still is, the biggest star ever to don an Atlanta Hawks uniform. A quick story: While growing up in Virginia, I attended the “Capital Classic” where Ralph Sampson and Sam Bowie squared off at the Cap Center in Landover, Maryland. Some of the future greats in basketball played in that game, but it was Wilkins who wowed everyone with 26 points and high-flying style. After three years at UGA, he played the bulk of his career with the Hawks. However, in 1994 the first place Hawks traded Wilkins, then the top scorer in the league, to the Clippers for Danny Manning. It’s a trade that many fans have not forgotten. Many equate the trade to Babe Ruth being sold to the Red Sox. Are the Hawks really suffering from “The Curse?” That being said, during his career Wilkins was a scoring champion, the first-ever Slam Dunk Competition winner, a nine-time All Star, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and the Hawks all-time leading scorer. His post playing career has including being in the Hawks’ front office as Vice President of Basketball and is a color analyst for Hawks games on television. A statue of Wilkins was erected in front of Philips Arena in 2015.
So, there’s the list. You may have more to add, or subtract. It depends on your definition of the word “important.” But the impact the quartet has had on sports in Atlanta is undeniable.