Atlanta’s championship drought ‘close to inexplicable’


How many NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL championships each city has won since major-league sports arrived in Atlanta in 1966:

City; NFL; MLB; NBA; NHL; Total

New York; 5; 9; 2; 8; 24

Boston; 4; 3; 9; 3; 19

Los Angeles; 1; 3; 11; 3; 18

San Francisco/Oakland; 7; 7; 2; 0; 16

Montreal; x; 0; x; 11; 11

Pittsburgh; 6; 2; x; 3; 11

Chicago; 1; 1; 6; 3; 11

Detroit; 0; 2; 3; 4; 9

Dallas; 5 0; 1; 1; 7

Miami; 2; 2; 3 0; 7

Philadelphia; 0; 2; 2; 2; 6

St. Louis; 1; 4; 0; 0; 5

Baltimore; 3; 3; 0; 0; 6

Edmonton; x; x; x; 5; 5

Milwaukee/Green Bay; 4; 0; 1; x; 5

San Antonio; x; x; 5; x; 5

Denver; 2; 0; 0; 2; 4

Washington; 3; 0; 1; 0; 4

Cincinnati; 0; 3; 0; x; 3

Toronto; x; 2; 0; 1; 3

Houston; 0; 0; 2; x; 2

Kansas City; 1; 1; 0; 0; 2

Minneapolis-St. Paul; 0; 2; 0; 0; 2

Seattle; 1; 0; 1; x; 2

Tampa-St. Petersburg; 1; 0; x; 1; 2

Atlanta; 0; 1; 0; 0; 1

Calgary; x; x; x; 1; 1

Indianapolis; 1; x; 0; x; 1

New Orleans; 1; x; 0; x; 1

Phoenix; 0; 1; 0; 0; 1

Portland; x; x; 1; x; 1

Raleigh; x; x; x; 1; 1

Buffalo; 0; x; 0; 0; 0

Charlotte; 0; x; 0; x; 0

Cleveland; 0; 0; 0; 0; 0

Nashville; 0; x; x; 0; 0

San Diego; 0; 0; 0; x; 0

Notes: "x;" denotes that the city has not had a team in that league at any point since 1966. Cities with a team in no more than one of the four leagues and with no championships won are not listed. New Jersey-based teams are included with New York and Anaheim teams with Los Angeles. If a city has (or has had) more than one team in a sport, the number shown is the combined championships in that sport since 1966. For teams that have relocated, championships are counted with the city where the team was based at the time.


With the Braves winding down their 50th season in Atlanta and the Falcons about to start their 50th, this article continues an AJC series marking a half-century of major-league sports here.

Sunday (now on A visit with the man who brought the Braves to Atlanta, former team owner Bill Bartholomay. Also, 50 people who have made huge impacts on the city's major-league history.

Today: Fifty years. One championship. How Atlanta's shortage of titles compares with other cities.

Tuesday: The Braves' and Falcons' marketing of their 50th seasons here.

Wednesday: Chat about Atlanta's major-league sports past — and future — with staff writer Tim Tucker on at 2 p.m. Also, test your knowledge in an interactive quiz.

In the 50 years that major-league sports have been played here, Atlanta’s teams have won one World Series, no Super Bowls, no NBA or NHL championships.

It is a dearth of titles that, to some, defines the city’s pro sports history.

In the past half-century, only one city that currently has at least three major-league teams has won fewer championships than Atlanta: Cleveland, which has won none.

Of 165 seasons played by Atlanta teams — 50 by the Braves (including this hopeless one), 49 by the Falcons, 47 by the Hawks and a combined 19 by two departed NHL teams — only one has ended with a win in the final postseason game.

One-for-165 — that means 0.6 percent of Atlanta’s major-league sports seasons have produced an ultimate championship.

“It quite honestly almost seems impossible,” long-time Atlanta sports radio host Chris Dimino, now with 680 The Fan, said of that record.

“It seems every time it can tip either way, it has fallen to the absolute (wrong) side of things. … I think it’s absolutely close to inexplicable. It just seems like any time that you need to win a moment to make the possibility of another title happen, you haven’t won that moment, or you’ve lost that moment.”

At the other extreme, almost 10 percent of Boston teams’ seasons in the past 50 years have resulted in a championship. All four Boston teams have won a title since 2008.

In the past half-century, New York teams have won 24 MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL championships, Boston teams have won 19 and Los Angeles teams 18.

Fittingly, perhaps, Atlanta’s lone championship came over Cleveland, in the 1995 World Series.

The Braves last month celebrated the 20th anniversary of that championship season, which ended with a 1-0 win over the Indians in World Series Game 6 on a home run by David Justice and eight innings of one-hit pitching by Tom Glavine.

Larry Winter, founder and president of the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame, thinks Atlanta easily could have won another championship or two.

“Any time you win a championship, you need luck involved,” he said. “… Why only one championship? There are so many things that go into it. One or two plays could have totally changed things.”

Winter cited two plays from the 1991 World Series, which the Braves lost to the Minnesota Twins in seven games. In Game 2, Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek famously pushed Braves base runner Ron Gant off the bag, applied a tag and got away with it to end an Atlanta rally in a game the Braves lost by one run. In Game 7, a base-running blunder by Lonnie Smith cost the Braves a run that should have broken a 0-0 tie in the eighth inning of a game Atlanta lost 1-0 in 10 innings.

“If a few plays like that (go the other way) at the appropriate times, one championship could have turned into three,” Winter said.

Partly because of such near-misses, Forbes magazine last year ranked Atlanta No. 1 among “America’s Most Miserable Sports Cities,” ahead of No. 2 Phoenix, No. 3 Cleveland and No. 4 San Diego. Phoenix, which has teams in all four major-league sports, joins Atlanta with one championship — the Diamondbacks’ 2001 World Series win. San Diego, which currently has just two teams, joins Cleveland without a championship in the past half-century.

Similarly, the New York Times this summer deemed Atlanta No. 2 in a ranking of “Most Cursed Sports Cities,” sandwiched between No. 1 Cleveland and No. 3 Buffalo.

Atlanta had chances at multiple championships in the 1990s — the Braves losing the World Series in 1991, 1992, 1996 and 1999; the Falcons losing the Super Bowl in January 1999. Maybe the Braves would have won the World Series in ’96 if not for the Yankees’ Jim Leyritz’s three-run homer on a hanging slider that turned around Game 4. Maybe things would have been different for the Falcons in the Super Bowl if Eugene Robinson hadn’t gotten arrested the night before.

“That had to have been a distraction in some form or fashion,” Winter said.

Aside from the 1990s, though, no Atlanta team has played for its sport’s ultimate championship.

The Hawks haven’t reached the NBA Finals since moving here in 1968. Neither of the city’s short-lived NHL franchises, the Flames and Thrashers, won a playoff series. The Braves haven’t won a playoff round in 14 years. The Falcons have lost four of their five playoff games since 2008.

It has gotten to the point that Dimino believes, based on calls to his radio shows over the past 22 years, many Atlanta fans have come to expect postseason failures.

“It’s almost not as anger-inducing as it’s supposed to be,” he said, “because there’s resignation.”

As Atlanta wraps up its first half-century in the big leagues, none of the local teams is visibly on the precipice of breaking through to a title.

The Braves are in a massive rebuilding project, their 50th season here having disintegrated into one of the worst and their hopes for the foreseeable future dependent on how a group of pitching prospects develops, which is always an unpredictable proposition.

The Falcons are coming off a combined 10-22 record the past two seasons, dropping their all-time regular-season ledger to 322-424-6.

The Hawks appear to be in the best position of Atlanta’s teams, coming off a 60-win regular season, but they were swept in the Eastern Conference finals and lack the superstar that many believe a championship team must have.

Kathy Cyran, an avid Falcons fan from the franchise’s inception and also a Braves fan, was asked to summarize her half-century of following the teams. Her first words: “A lot of heartache.” But she is undeterred, having made a couple of trips to training camp for a glimpse of the Falcons’ 50th team.

“You always have a wonderful, positive feeling going into the season,” she said. “… Overall, I think if you’re a fan of the team, you’re a fan of the team — good, bad or indifferent.”