From professional baseball, football, basketball, soccer and lacrosse teams to collegiate sports, a large running community and the best tennis town this side of the Atlantic, the city of Atlanta is a vast and varied sports metropolis. With so much history and so many events occurring year-round, KNOWAtlanta provides the following primer on Atlanta’s athletic pastimes.
Professional and Recreational Sports
Atlanta is an undisputed champ when it comes to tennis fandom. The city is home to the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association (ALTA, est. 1934), a nonprofit that organizes league play with 80,000-plus members.
There are about 100 public tennis courts just within the city limits of Atlanta – and countless more in the surrounding neighborhoods and apartment complexes.
Each July, the city hosts the BB&T Atlanta Open tennis tournament at Atlantic Station, which attracts some of world’s top touring professionals. 2017 is the 14th year of the tournament, which draws about 30,000 fans despite the summer heat.
Before the Milwaukee Braves moved their team to Atlanta in 1966, the city was home to another professional baseball team, the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association, who played at Ponce de Leon Park (known as “Old Poncey”) from 1900 to 1965.
Pro football Hall of Famer Charley Trippi, who played his entire NFL career with the Chicago Cardinals (1947-55), was a member of baseball’s Atlanta Crackers for the 1947 season before joining the NFL. He hit .334.
Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron hit a total of 755 home runs in his illustrious career, breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record of 714 on April 8, 1974 in front of his Braves’ hometown crowd of 53,775 at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium.
The 83-year-old Aaron is still with the Atlanta Braves organization, currently serving as senior vice president. A statue of Aaron and much of his memorabilia can be found at the Braves’ new SunTrust Park.
Atlanta’s only major league sports championship thus far belongs to the Atlanta Braves, which won the World Series in 1995.
The new Mercedes-Benz Stadium – home to the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United FC – features the largest free-standing bird statue in the world, a 41.5-foot-tall falcon with a wingspan of over 64 feet designed by Gábor Miklós Szoke of Budapest.
The new Mercedes-Benz Stadium incorporates edible landscaping, so if you’re at a game early and feeling a little peckish, look for one of the blueberry bushes or apple trees.
The Atlanta Falcons were established in 1965 as an NFL expansion team. Team highlights include two trips to the Super Bowl (1998 and 2017) and all-star players such as Dion Sanders, Roddy White, and Matt Ryan.
The Atlanta Falcons received its nickname on Aug. 29, 1965. Miss Julia Elliott, a school teacher from Griffin, was singled out from many people who suggested “Falcons” as the nickname for the new franchise. Elliott wrote: “The Falcon is proud and dignified, with great courage and fight. It never drops its prey. It is deadly and has a great sporting tradition.”
The Atlanta Hawks basketball team traces its roots back to 1946 when they formed in Buffalo, New York, as the Bisons. The team moved many times in its history and once called Milwaukee home (from 1951-1955), just like the Braves. They moved to Atlanta from St. Louis in 1968.
You may know that Atlanta is home to five major professional sports teams: The Falcons, the Braves, the Hawks, the Dream and Atlanta United FC. But did you know that while Atlanta has twice been home to National Hockey League teams – the Atlanta Flames (1972-80) and the Atlanta Thrashers (1999-2011) – the East Coast Hockey League’s Atlanta Gladiators have called the city home for 16 years. The Gladiators are members of the ECHL, the nation’s premier “AA” hockey league. All home games are played at the Infinite Energy Arena, located just off I-85 on Sugarloaf Parkway in Duluth.
Atlanta became a Major League Soccer expansion city in 2014 with the formation of Atlanta United FC. Fans were involved in choosing the team’s name, logo, and the color scheme for the uniforms.
The team debuted with the 2017 season, regularly selling out matches at its temporary home of Bobby Dodd Stadium on the campus of Georgia Tech. Atlanta United FC moved to its permanent home at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in September.
The Atlanta Dream play in the Eastern Conference of the Women’s National Basketball Association. The Dream has qualified for the WNBA Playoffs in seven of its nine years in Atlanta and has reached the WNBA Finals three times.
The Atlanta Dream’s team name was inspired, in part, by the famous speech of Atlanta native Martin Luther King, Jr.
The College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta opened in 2014 and has become a major tourism destination. Situated near CNN Center and Centennial Olympic Park, it consists of three floors, five themed galleries and more than 50 interactive exhibits, including a 47-yard football field and a three-story wall of more than 750 college football helmets.
Bobby Dodd Stadium at Georgia Tech is the oldest on-campus NCAA Division I football stadium. It was built in 1913.
In 1892, Atlanta hosted the second intercollegiate football game in the South, played between the A&M College of Alabama (now Auburn University) and the University of Georgia in Piedmont Park; this annual game between the two universities is now called the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.”
Outside of the state, Georgia Tech may be known primarily for its academics, but the university has 17 varsity sports teams: football, women’s and men’s basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, golf, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s track and field, and men’s and women’s cross country.
Similarly, the Georgia State Panthers, representing Georgia State University, field varsity teams in 16 sports, including football and basketball. GSU, like Georgia Tech, is situated within Atlanta proper. Northwest of the city, Kennesaw State University features 17 sports teams, including a football program it launched in 2015.
More Atlanta Activities
Atlanta is for runners. The city hosts dozens of running events each year, including the world-renowned AJC Peachtree Road Race, which is an annual 10K run with about 60,000 participants.
Did you know? Atlanta now hosts a professional lacrosse team – the Atlanta Blaze – which plays home games at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Kennesaw.
Atlanta hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics, becoming just the fifth American city to host the Olympic Games and only the third to hold a Summer Olympic Games. The legacy of those games lives on in many ways, including landmarks such as Centennial Olympic Park.
Perhaps the most iconic moment of the 1996 Summer Olympics was when Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic torch during the opening ceremonies of the games. During the games, he also would receive a replacement gold medal for his boxing victory in the 1960 Summer Olympics. He misplaced his original medal in 1961.