Wanted: iconic sports figures

Atlanta is a good sports town, but not a great one.  No one would put it up there with the great sports towns like Boston, New York, Chicago, or LA.  I wonder if you have to be a great metropolis to be a great sports town, but that is a different post.  This one is about what is missing that prevents Atlanta from being a great sports town rather than just a good one.

I started thinking about this while watching the Hawks lose a close one to Boston last night with James.  None of the Hawks players really have the kind of star power that you get with someone like Kevin Garnett, and it seems like teams in great sports cities either need or attract players with star power.  Kobe, Jordan, Ewing, Garnett, Magic, Bird.  The fact that guys like Karl Malone and John Stockton were big stars in places like Utah are practically the exception that proved the rule – they were notable as much for being stars in out of the way places.  I think you see this across the board in sports.  Obviously the Yankees, but teams like the Cubs and the Red Sox have a certain cachet because they have a great following.  Ditto for the Bears and the Giants.  You can go ahead and substitute the USC football team and its impressive list of stars for this discussion.  

Atlanta has had its stars, of course.  Smoltz, Herschel, ‘Nique, Aaron.  Vick.  The players and teams don’t really stack up with the other towns, though, in terms of city-making icon status.  I’m talking about the folks that the town embraces, stars that become the face of the city.  Jordan/Chicago, Bird/Boston, Ewing/New York, Kobe and Magic/LA.  The stars themselves seem to effuse big-city glamour and prestige.  

Of course, these stars also come with ginormous egos.  Tabloid stories about gambling, or infidelity, who they are dating, etc.  Isn’t that part of what goes along with being a great sports town?  An unhealthy obsession with stars?  

I’m not saying that Atlanta needs all that, or even aspires to be a great sports town.  I’m more just meditating on what exactly it means to be a great sports town.  I think larger than life sports figures are a requirement.

2 Comments so far

  1. crackwilding on December 19th, 2008 @ 9:56 am

    I don’t know or care much about football, hockey, or basketball, but I can tell you that as a Boston transplant, Turner Field is a pisspoor place to see a baseball game. I’m something of a traditionalist, so the place looks like a circus to me to begin with. And cheerleaders? Really?

    But the real shame is not the park so much as what surrounds it. Namely, nothing except the world’s scariest package store. And naturally, when a game is over, what does everyone do? They pile into their cars, wait the forty minutes necessary to exit the colossal parking lot, and then hightail it back out to the ‘burbs.

    Compare this with Fenway. Yes, it’s small and cramped and half the seats are obstructed or face the wrong way. But it’s a fun place to be — you feel like you’re at the world series even when it’s the Royals in April. When you leave the park, you’re in an actual, bona fide neighborhood with bars, restaurants, and other human beings. Moreover, there are other neighborhoods within easy walking distance. And trains, in case you want to head out a bit farther. No parking lots, other than the garage across the street. Just people, on foot, in big, rowdy crowds.

    Fun, in a word.

  2. james hervey (jeherv) on December 21st, 2008 @ 8:42 am

    the nba is intriguing in that money really isn’t the issue so much as where the top athletes want to play, and the decider there is really the team, much more than the city itself.

    phoenix is a miserable sports town yet they have been able to keep steve nash. san antonio doesn’t even register in any other sport and yet tim duncan has made his home there as did david robinson.

    the previous commenter makes a great point about the areas around dome/phillips and turner field. they are miserable with nothing to do.

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