The ten most impactful African American Atlanta athletes ever

Atlanta is seen as the Black Mecca of the U.S., boasting some of the most impactful African American icons in sports. Over the decades, these iconic figures have each left an indelible mark on their respective game and franchises.

Here are the ten who left the biggest impact.

  1. Hank Aaron 

Hammerin’ Hank needs no introduction. Arguably the face of Atlanta sports, many still consider Aaron the homerun king. Many see his face when reflecting on the rise of African American baseball stars after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1942. 

Along with attempts to guide the Atlanta Braves into a contender, he constantly received death threats after his success in Major League Baseball. Aaron’s 755 home runs rank second all-time.

  1. Dominique Wilkins 

To this day, the “Human Highlight Reel” is considered by many to be the greatest Atlanta Hawk in franchise history. Although he was not drafted by the Hawks, Wilkins spent the majority of his career in Atlanta. 

From a young age, he knew that being a black athlete was huge as he had icons to look up to growing up.

“Being part of the civil rights era, where I grew up in the sixties with civil rights heroes, really taught me to be a man at a really young age,” Wilkins said.

His legendary clashes with Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics and the “bad boy” Detroit Pistons in the 80s were legendary. Wilkins wrote the history of the Hawks and played in some of the franchise’s most memorable games.

  1. Deion Sanders

“Primetime” will always be known for bringing the swagger to Atlanta. In 1991, Sanders played for both the Atlanta Falcons and the Atlanta Braves. 

He played for the Falcons in the day and jumped on a flight to play in a playoff game for the Braves at night. 

No matter the field, Sanders was electric. He stole bases on the diamond and ran back punts for touchdowns on the gridiron.

  1. Warrick Dunn

Dunn is easily one of the most underrated athletes in Atlanta sports history for both his time on and off the field. He was a running back for the Atlanta Falcons from 2002-2007 and was big on and off the field for the dirty birds. In his five-year tenure in Atlanta, he rushed for 1,000 yards in three out of those six seasons and was pivotal in the Falcons reaching the 2004 title game. 

Dunn, now a minority owner of the Falcons, also gives back to the community. The building of single-parent homes is a prime example of his warm heart.

“This is part of who I am, to see people smile and help anyone that I can possibly help,” Dunn said.

Dunn is one of many who continue to invest in their communities after hanging the cleats up.

  1. Michael Vick

The first overall pick in 2001, Vick changed the organization’s outlook.

After arriving in Atlanta, the Virginia Tech Hokie made an immediate impact. In his first season as starting quarterback, Vick led the Falcons to a 9-6-1 record in 2002. He capped the season with a historic upset of the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. 

Some people even became fans of the team after Vick became the starter.

“[Current Atlanta starter Matt Ryan] will always be the better quarterback,” fellow season ticket holder Christopher Harden said. “But as a black man, Vick will always be my favorite QB.”

  1. Spud Webb

The 5-foot, 7-inch high flyer is best known for defeating Michael Jordan in the 1986 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Widely underrated in league history, Webb is considered one of the most exciting Hawks of all time.

He played for Atlanta from 1985 to 1991 alongside Wilkins. Together, they would compete in big games against the likes of the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics. 

As a pioneer for undersized guards like Earl Boykins, Isaiah Thomas and Muggsy Bogues, his legacy still lives today.

  1. Fred McGriff

The “Crime Dog” is arguably the most exciting player to ever wear an Atlanta Braves uniform. Dealt from the San Diego Padres in 1993, McGriff made an immediate impact for the Braves, hitting a homer in his first game with the team.

That same year, he helped the Braves overtake the Barry Bonds-led New York Giants for the National League West division title. The Braves would fall in the National League Championship Series to the Philadelphia Phillies later that season, but McGriff would get his World Series ring with the Braves in 1995.

  1. David Justice

Without Justice, Atlanta may still be searching for a championship. His home run in game six of the 1995 World Series played a significant role in the Braves winning the championship.

Aside from a lockout-shortened postseason, Justice never missed the playoffs. For a period of time, he was even blackballed by some fans for criticizing the level of support the Braves were getting before their World Series run 1995.

However, when he was traded in 1997 to the Cleveland Indians, relations soured between him and the Braves. Nevertheless, Justice was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame in 2007.

  1. Claude Humphrey 

Humphrey was the centerpiece of a brutal Falcons defense in the 1970s. The second overall pick in the 1968 NFL/AFL Draft, he is the only Hall of Fame defensive end drafted by the Falcons.

Despite playing in an era without sacks being recorded, he retired as one of the best defensive players of all time, retiring with an unofficial 126.5 sacks and making the Falcons relevant in the National Football Conference – Western Division. 

Most importantly, he displayed loyalty to the franchise, playing in Atlanta from 1968-78. He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2014 as, of course, a Falcon.

  1. Terry Pendelton

Pendleton’s time in Atlanta was drastically cut short, but it was great nonetheless. He signed with the Braves in 1990 and turned the team from worst to first in 1991.

That same 1991 season, he had his best individual season batting .319 and 187 hits, leading the National League. His performance was vital in leading the franchise to its first World Series berth since leaving Milwaukee.

Pendelton would stay in Atlanta until 1994 when an MLB-wide strike ended the season early. He came back to Atlanta in 1996 and again played in a World Series, but the team lost to the New York Yankees.

He was inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame in 2018.