What is the best jersey number in Atlanta sports history?
That simple question led me on a journey through time to find the answer. Icons can come packaged in every feasible way. Whether it be in a crisp clean single digit like No. 7 (Michael Vick), a classic like No. 21 (Deion Sanders, Dominique Wilkins) or a relatively unassuming numeral like 31 (Greg Maddux), each of these numbers means something in Atlanta sports lore.
Jersey History series: Nos. 1-5 | Nos. 6-10
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be unveiling my findings five jersey numbers at a time. I looked at each of the major sports franchises in the city’s history, from the Falcons, Braves, Hawks, Dream, United, Thrashers and Flames, all in order to catalog the definitive list of jersey numbers and whose worn them.
Before we get to the list, a few rules: A player had to play multiple seasons in Atlanta to be considered. I did not include any player who played for a franchise while it was located in another city; they had to have played in Atlanta.
To determine value and talent, I used a value-related stat for each sport such as Wins Above Replacement (baseball) or Point Share (hockey). Sometimes, I will make a subjective call. You may disagree, but that’s the fun of all of this, right? So, feel free to debate in the comments and let’s have a fun walk down memory lane. Let’s go!
Jersey No. 11
Best player: Falcons WR Julio Jones (2011-20)
Honorable mentions: Hawks PG Trae Young (2018-present), Braves IF Darrell Evans (1969-76), Flames RW Bob MacMillan (1977-80)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 11: 70
Summary: A number of Atlanta players have worn No. 11 over the years, but this really comes down to a clear winner and a clear future first-place candidate. While it may sting now, Falcons fans will undoubtedly remember Julio Jones’s run with the franchise fondly. One of the greatest receivers of all time, Jones was a two-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler during his run in Atlanta. He’s responsible for some of the greatest plays in franchise history and was regarded as a selfless teammate and great mentor throughout his run in Atlanta. When it comes to the most talented and accomplished players in Atlanta sports history, Jones is undoubtedly right near the top.
Call me a prisoner of the moment, but the leap that Trae Young has made over the last two or three months makes it at least conceivable he enters the conversation for the top No. 11 in the future. That obviously comes with several caveats – how long he plays in Atlanta, how healthy he remains and the improvements he continues to make – but the Hawks have not had a star player at this level since Dominque Wilkins. Just take a quick look at the NBA playoff records he’s set in his first-ever playoff appearance while leading the Hawks to an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. If this is a two-man race, what a two-man race it is.
Jersey No. 12
Best player: Falcons QB Chris Chandler (1997-2001)
Honorable mentions: Flames C Tom Lysiak (1973-79), Falcons QB Chris Miller (1987-93), Falcons WR Michael Jenkins (2004-10), Falcons WR Mohamed Sanu (2016-2019), Braves OF Dusty Baker (1968-75)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 12: 68
Summary: There have been some pretty good players to wear No. 12 in Atlanta sports history, even if there hasn’t necessarily been anyone great. Chris Chandler gets the nod here for his five-year run with the Falcons, which included two Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl berth in 1998. He is still one of the most accomplished quarterbacks for a franchise that hasn’t had many great players at the position outside of Matt Ryan, Michael Vick and Steve Bartkowski. Other notable Falcons on this list include Michael Jenkins, who became a reliable No. 2 receiver after the team selected him in the first round of the 2004 draft, and Mohamed Sanu, who played a big role on Atlanta’s 2016 Super Bowl team.
A special shoutout should be given to Atlanta Flames center Tom Lysiak. Likely forgotten by many Atlanta sports fans, Lysiak scored 155 goals during his six seasons with the Flames. He made three All-Star teams and led the NHL in games played during the 1975-76 season. Atlanta isn’t known for its hockey teams, but Lysiak was a notable player for this city. Dusty Baker, of course, is well-known less for his playing career than his long and distinguished career as a manager.
Jersey No. 13
Best player: Braves OF Ronald Acuna Jr. (2018-21)
Honorable mentions: Thrashers LW Vyacheslav Kozlov (2002-10), Falcons P Chris Mohr (2001-04), Dream F Aneika Henry-Morello (2012-15, 2017)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 13: 37
Summary: I initially had Vyacheslav Kozlov in the top spot, but he’s not really the best player to wear this jersey. Although he’s only been in Atlanta for three-and-a-half seasons, that honor clearly belongs to Ronald Acuna Jr. Easily one of the best young players in the game, he could go down as an All-time Braves player, which is saying something. The 2018 Rookie of the Year, Acuna Jr. has placed in the MVP voting in each of his three seasons and already has 102 home runs and 77 stolen bases to his name. Not even four years into his career, the sky is the limit for this dynamic superstar, and he will own this spot outright as early as next year.
One of the best players in Thrashers franchise history, Kozlov’s 40 point share remains 10th-best, even including those who have played for the Winnipeg Jets since the team’s move. Kozlov was one of the team’s top offensive players during his time with the team, alongside of other offensive threats Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa. The Thrashers’ run in Atlanta wasn’t successful, but it is remembered fondly by fans, and Kozlov was a part of that.
Jersey No. 14
Best player: Dream F Erika de Souza (2008-15)
Honorable mentions: Braves IF Martin Prado (2006-12), Falcons WR Eric Weems (2007-11, 2014-16), Braves IF Julio Franco (2001-05, 2007), Falcons WR Justin Hardy (2015-19)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 14: 65
Summary: One of the best players in Atlanta Dream history, Erika de Souza is more than deserving of this top spot. While she may not have the name recognition among non-WNBA fans, de Souza was a three-time All-Star during her seven-year run with the organization while averaging 12.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. She was a crucial part of the Dream’s early success that included three appearances in the WNBA Finals. Without de Souza, the Dream likely would not have been nearly as dominant.
A strong case could be made for either Martin Prado or Julio Franco, who had memorable runs with the Braves. Prado’s 2010 season, for which he made his lone All-Star team and finished ninth in MVP voting was particularly notable. Franco was a key part of Atlanta’s playoff teams in the early 2000s, and he’s a well-known part of baseball history. Both players, however, wore multiple numbers during their time in Atlanta, which knocked them a little bit. Also, Eric Weems’s abilities as a special teams player are well-known, and he would also be a worthy candidate for this spot.
Jersey No. 15
Best player: Braves P Tim Hudson (2005-13)
Honorable mentions: Hawks C Al Horford (2007-16), Dream G Tiffany Hayes (2012-present), Thrashers LW Dany Heatley (2001-04), United FW Hector Villalba (2017-19), Braves C Joe Torre (1966-68)
Total number of Atlanta athletes to wear No. 15: 57
Summary: What an absolutely stacked number in Atlanta sports history, which made this a tough decision. Every single team outside of the Falcons boasts a legitimate star player, but the best of the best is Braves pitcher Tim Hudson. A borderline Hall of Famer, Hudson spent nine years with the Braves as the team’s ace pitcher, where he compiled a 113-72 record and posted a 3.56 ERA. While he only made one All-Star game as a member of the Braves, Hudson was widely regarded as one of the best pitchers in the sport during his time in Atlanta. For a franchise with a history of great pitching, Hudson is on the shortlist.
Where to even begin for the runners-up? We’ll start with basketball. Al Horford was the piece Atlanta built around for nearly a decade, and he helped lead the Hawks to an Eastern Conference Finals in his penultimate season with the franchise. Tiffany Hayes continues to stake her claim as the best player in Dream history, and the All-WNBA guard has averaged 13.8 points and 3.3 assists during her nine seasons with the organization.
Dany Heatley was named Rookie of the Year for the Thrashers during the 2001-02 season, and while his time with the team was short, he quickly turned into the face of the franchise at the team’s onset. Hector Villalba was part of United’s early star trio alongside Miquel Almiron and Josef Martinez, and he played a role in bringing a championship to Atlanta. And although much of Joe Torre’s run with the Braves franchise came in Milwaukee, he did spend three years in Atlanta and made two All-Star teams.
I told you, loaded group.
Next up: Nos. 16-20
Who is the best player to wear a number 11-15
This poll is closed
Ronald Acuna Jr.
Erika de Souza