Knicks vs. Hawks isn't much of a rivalry. Nor is Nets vs. Hawks. But, since the Hawks have long struggled at the box office, due to their ineptitude and Atlanta's status as a city with a lot of transplants, this will be a good chance for fans of either New York City team to get another arena, and even a road win, under your belts.
Before You Go. Being well south of New York, Atlanta is usually warmer than we are. Granted, this won't make much of a difference with an indoors sport, but you should still be aware. Check the website of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (used to be 2 papers, now 1) before you go. For the moment, they're predicting pretty mid-60s for the afternoon, mid-50s for the evening.
Although Georgia, a.k.a. The Heart of the South, seceded from the Union in 1861, it was readmitted in 1870. You do not need a passport, and you don't need to change your U.S. dollars into Confederate money. And it's in the Eastern Time Zone, so you don't have to fiddle with your watch or your phone clock. Do keep in mind, though: They think you talk as funny as you think they do.
Tickets. The Hawks averaged 17,412, fans per home game last season, about 93 percent of capacity, and a huge improvement over 2013-14, when they averaged only 14,339. In spite of there being quite a few New York and New Jersey natives in Atlanta, getting tickets should be fairly easy, as long as you have the money.
In the lower level, the 100 sections, tickets are $1094 to $116 between the baskets, $50 to $607 behind them. In the 200 level, $45 between and $33 behind. In the 300 level, $33 between and $17 behind. The 400 level is closed off, since they don't think they can sell seats on those sections.
Getting There. It’s 868 miles from Times Square in New York to Five Points, Atlanta’s center of attention. Google Maps says the fastest way from New York to Atlanta by road is to take the Holland Tunnel to Interstate 78 to Harrisburg, then I-81 through the Appalachian Mountains, and then it gets complicated from there.
Take the train? Amtrak’s New York-to-New Orleans train, the Crescent, leaves Penn Station at 2:15 PM and arrives at 8:13 he next morning. That's just under 18 hours. It returns at 8:04 PM (meaning you'll need an overnight stay in Atlanta) and arrives back in New York at 1:46 the next afternoon. The round-trip fare is $324. It’s as long as driving and riding the bus, and costs a lot more than the bus. The station is at 1688 Peachtree Street NW at Deering Road, due north of downtown. From there, take the 110 bus into downtown.
(The airport is named for 2 Mayors. William B. Hartsfield served from 1942 to 1962, and got the airport built. Maynard H. Jackson Jr. was the city's 1st black Mayor, serving from 1974 to 1982, and again from 1990 to 1994, and he got a new terminal built at the airport.)
Once In the City. When you get to your hotel in Atlanta (and, let’s face it, if you went all that way, you’re not going down for a single 3-hour game and then going right back up the Eastern Seaboard), pick up a copy of the Journal-Constitution. It’s a good paper with a very good sports section. The New York Times may also be available, but, chances are, the Daily News and the Post won’t be.
Founded in 1837, and originally named "Terminus" because it was established as a railroad center, but later renamed because the railroad in question was the Atlantic-Pacific Railroad, Atlanta is a city of about 450,000 people (less than Staten Island), in a metropolitan area of about 6.1 million (still less than 1/3 the size of the New York Tri-State Area). The sales tax in Georgia is just 4 percent, but it's 5 percent in the City of Atlanta.
The State House
Be advised that a lot of streets are named Peachtree, which can confuse the hell out of you. Even worse, the city uses diagonal directions on its streets and street signs, much like Washington, D.C.: NW, NE, SE and SW. The street grid takes some odd angles, which will confuse you further. Five Points -- Peachtree Street, Marietta Street & Edgewood Avenue -- is the centerpoint of the city.
Coke ad in the Five Points
A building boom in the 1980s gave the city some pretty big skyscrapers, so, while it won't seem quite as imposing as New York or Chicago, it will seem bigger than such National League cities as Cincinnati and St. Louis. The building currently named Bank of America Plaza, a.k.a. the Pencil Building because of its shape, is the tallest in the State of Georgia, at 1,033 feet. It stands at 600 Peachtree Street NE at North Avenue.
MARTA's 3-stripes logo of blue, yellow and orange is reminiscent of New Jersey Transit's blue, purple and orange. A single trip on any MARTA train is $2.50, now slightly cheaper than New York's. A 10-trip is no bargain at $25. The subway started running with tokens in 1979, and switched to farecards in 2006.
The official address is 1 Philips Drive. If you're driving, parking costs $13. If you're not, take MARTA's Blue or Green Line to Dome-GWCC-Philips Arena-CNN Station. Hawk Walk is a street that connects the station, the arena and the CNN headquarters.
There are steel columns on the Georgia Dome side of the arena that spell out "ATLANTA," and on the CNN side that spell out "CNN." Other than that, there's not much about it that's remarkable, at least not architecturally.
Unlike most arenas, the court is laid out on a diagonal, instead of more or less east-to-west or north-to-south: Northeast-to-southwest. The center scoreboard at Philips is the same one from The Omni, with some modern touches added.
Food. Son, Ah say son, this bein’ the South, y’all can expect good eatin' and good hospitality. What the Hawks lack in history and atmosphere, they make up in food. Some arena restaurants are open only to club-seating patrons.
Available to all are RED and Taco Mac. Hawk Walk has stands for Courtside Grill, Fry Baby, Buckhead Diner Express, Backcourt BBQ, Corona Beach Hut Bar, 3 Point Play Pizza, sandwich & salad shop The Works, Nava Taqueria, Peachtree Pretzels, Italian-style sandwich bar Veni Vidi Vici, Delaney's Irish Pub, Crown Royal Bar and Rock and Roll Bar.
In the arena concourses, you can find barbecue stands Buzzer Beaters (Portals 12 and 25) and Full Court Press (3), Slam Dunk Pizza (3, 11, 15 and 26), burger & chicken place Burgers & Birds (2 and 21), chicken stand Fowl Line (27), hot dog stand Hot Diggity Dog (20), Dessert Shoppe (2) and Gluten Free Portable (12).
Team History Displays. The Hawks hang banners for their 1970 Western Division title; their 1980, 1987 and 1994 Central Division titles; and their 2015 Southeast Division title.
The Hawks banners, photo taken during a Thrashers game
prior to their 2011 move and the Hawks' 2015 Division title
The Hawks have officially retired 3 numbers: Number 9, forward Bob Pettitt, 1954-65 (their last season in Milwaukee and their 1st 10 in St. Louis); Number 21, forward Dominique Wilkins, 1982-94; and Number 23, forward Lou Hudson, 1966-77 (their last 2 seasons in St. Louis and their 1st 9 in Atlanta). The Number 55 of Dikembe Mutombo, center 1996-2001, will be retired on November 24. Center Jason Collier played the 2004-05 season with the Hawks, and then died from an enlarged heart at age 28. The Hawks have not retired his Number 40, but they have removed it from circulation.
Their banners for Pettit and Hudson are to the left of their title banners, the one for Wilkens to the right, where it will, presumably, be joined by Mutombo's. They do not hang a banner for their 1958 NBA Championship, won in St. Louis.
There are 13 men in the Basketball Hall of Fame who have played for the Hawks, but only 6 in Atlanta. The Hawks do not have a team Hall of Fame. Besides Wilkins and Mutombo, they haven't had a Hall of Fame player for more than 4 Atlanta seasons. Pete Maravich and Walt Bellamy played 4 seasons for them, Moses Malone for 3, Connie Hawkins for 1.
Pettit was named to the NBA's 25th Anniversary Team in 1971, and its 35th Anniversary Team in 1980. He, Wilkens, Maravich, Wilkins and Malone were named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players in 1996.
Although Pistol Pete Maravich is probably, except maybe for 'Nique, the franchise's best player of the last half-century, and died young, the Number 44 that he wore with the Hawks remains in circulation. (He did get his Number 7 retired by the Jazz.) Lenny Wilkens (note the spelling, so not related to Dominique) played for them in St. Louis and coached them in Atlanta, but there's no mention of him, either.
UPDATE: In 2016, Zelmo Beaty was elected to the Hall, but most of his Hawks tenure was in St. Louis.
Stuff. Hawksshop stores can be found in the arena and along Hawk Walk, selling pretty much any kind of memorabilia you could find at any other arena.
While there are several good books about Atlanta's favorite team, the Braves, the Hawks have hardly any written about them. Last year, as part of the NBA's A History of Hoops series, Jim Whiting published The Story of the Atlanta Hawks. That's about as good as it's going to get until the Hawks actually make a serious run at a title. And as for DVDs with the Hawks as the subject, I searched Amazon.com and found exactly none.
It's almost as if the Hawks don't exist. And, at the rate they're going, soon, they won't -- at least, not in the Big Peach.
During the Game. A November 13, 2014 article on DailyRotoHelp ranked the NBA teams' fan bases, and listed the Hawks' as 28th, or 3rd-least-engaged. According to the article, "Everyone loves to talk about them, but once they start doing bad, the fans stop showing up. Even when they make the Playoffs, they still don't sell out games."
Atlanta can be a rough city, but, aside from a brief rivalry with the Orlando Magic when each team had some Georgia natives on their roster, they don't have any real rivalries. Despite the Charlotte Hornets, New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies being regional rivals, they're not that close -- certainly not like the Boston-New York-Philly-Washington corridor.
NFL Falcons and Georgia Tech college football games might be good places to keep your guard up. But Hawks fans are not going to pick fights with you. As I said, they barely care enough to show up. You do not have to worry about wearing Knicks, Nets, or any other team’s, gear in Philips Arena. Hawks fans will generally not act like New York, Philadelphia or Boston fans and get snippy (or worse, rough) because of it.
The Hawks hold auditions for National Anthem singers, rather than have a regular performer. I do not know if Hawks fans follow their Braves-leaning lead by concluding the National Anthem not with “ …and the home of the brave” but “ …and the home of the Braves!” I hope they don't. It’s not as dumb as the Baltimore “O! say does that… ” but it’s bad enough.
Foster Carson, a.k.a. "Sir Foster," is perhaps the most renowned organist in the NBA. Atlanta-based rapper and minister J4J has recorded a theme song for the Hawks. I don't know if they do the Braves' annoying Tomahawk Chop and its song, the War Chant: “Oh, oh-whoa-oh-oh… whoa-oh-oh… oh-whoa-oh-oh…”
The team's mascot is Harry the Hawk, and they do have cheerleaders who perform dance routines -- and, given the Hawks' perennial attendance struggles, I don't envy the ladies or Harry their jobs.
After the Game. You should have no trouble with Hawks fans on your way out, and you may even find a few of your fellow travelers ready to celebrate a Knick (or Net) win – or commiserate with you on a Knick (or Net) loss. But, if it’s a night game, be sure to get on the subway and then back to your hotel. Atlanta does have a bit of a crime problem; while you’ll probably be safe in the World Congress Center area and on the subway, you don’t want to wander the streets late at night.
A recent Thrillist article on the best sports bars in every State called the Midway Pub the best in Georgia. However, it's in East Atlanta, 3 miles east of downtown, and not easily reachable by public transportation. 552 Flat Shoals Avenue SE.
Mazzy's, at 2217 Roswell Road in Marietta, is the home of the local Jets fan club, but it's 20 miles north, and forget about reaching it by public transportation. The club also lists Bada Bing's, at 349 Decatur Street SE, just 1 stop east of Five Points on the MARTA Green Line (fitting), but they claim Mazzy's is their "perfect place." Meehan's Public House is also said to be a Jet fans' hangout. 227 Sandy Springs Place, at the CityWalk shopping center, just outside I-285. MARTA Red Line to Dunwoody, transfer to the 87 bus.
A Facebook page titled "Mets Fans Living In Atlanta" was no help. Your best bet may be to research hotel chains, to find out which ones New Yorkers tend to like, and meet up with fellow N'Yawkuhs (or N'Jerseyans) there.
If your visit to Atlanta is during the European soccer season, which is now approaching its climax, your best bet to watch your favorite club is the Brewhouse Cafe, at 401 Moreland Avenue NE. MARTA Blue Line to Inman Park-Reynoldstown.
* The Omni. The Philips Arena was built on the site of the previous Atlanta arena, The Omni, a.k.a. the Omni Coliseum. That arena hosted the Hawks from 1972 to 1997, the NHL's Atlanta Flames from 1972 to 1980 (when they moved to Calgary), the 1977 NCAA Final Four (Queens native and ex-Knick Al McGuire leading Marquette over Dean Smith’s North Carolina), and the 1988 Democratic Convention (Michael Dukakis was nominated for President, which didn’t work out too well).
The Omni had to be replaced because the architects built it with steel that didn't hold up in Georgia's humid climate, and so, by the late 1990s, they had a 25-year-old arena that was in roughly the condition of one 75 years old. So The Omni had to go. The Philips Arena is built with more resistant steel, and should last for a while. (Then again, you never know: Following the "death" of The Omni at age 25, Turner Field is going to die at age 20, and the Georgia Dome at 26.)
With the Thrashers gone, the closest NHL team to Atlanta is the Nashville Predators, 247 miles away. Atlanta was the 11th-largest market in the NHL, but don't expect it to ever get another team.
* Georgia Dome and Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Georgia Dome, next-door to Philips Arena, opened in 1992, and has since been home to the Falcons, he SEC Championship Game, and the Chick-fil-A Bowl (formerly the Peach Bowl). It hosted the 2006 Sugar Bowl due to the Superdome still being unusable after Hurricane Katrina.
It hosted the NCAA Final Four in 2002 (Maryland beating Indiana), 2007 (Florida beating Ohio State), and 2013 (Louisville over Michigan). It's also hosted the 1996 Olympic basketball games, several SEC basketball tournaments and the 2003 Women's Final Four. It's hosted 7 soccer games, including a recent CONCACAF Gold Cup loss by the U.S. men's team to Panama, a 2014 U.S. women's team win over Russia, and games by legendary club sides AC Milan, Manchester City and Mexican side Club America.
A new retractable-roof stadium for the Falcons, and for a proposed Atlanta team for Major League Soccer, is planned for just south of the Georgia Dome, which, presumably, will be demolished -- like Turner Field, remarkably soon after its construction.
Like the new Braves ballpark, it's expected to open in 2017, allowing both the Falcons and the Major League Soccer expansion team Atlanta United to move in. Naming rights have been sold to Mercedes-Benz -- giving them the names of both the Falcons and their NFC South Division rivals, the New Orleans Saints. It is 1 of 4 stadiums in line to host either Super Bowl LIII in February 2019, or Super Bowl LIV in 2020, so it has a 50-50 chance of hosting one.
Until Atlanta United first takes the pitch, the closest MLS team will be Orlando City Soccer Club, 436 miles away.
* Turner Field and site of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Known as Atlanta Stadium from 1966 to 1974 and Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium from 1974 to 1997, this round, multipurpose stadium was home to the Southern Association’s Atlanta Crackers in their last season, 1965; to the Braves from 1966 to 1996; and to the Falcons from 1966 to 1991. It was in what’s now the parking lot north of Turner Field.
Turner Field was built as the centerpiece of the 1996 Olympics, and then the northern end of the 80,000-seat track & field stadium was torn down to make way for the bleachers of the 51,000-seat ballpark, opening the following spring. The Braves made the Playoffs every season there from 1997 to 2005, and again in 2012 and 2013. So far, though, they've won just 1 Pennant there, in 1999, and got swept by the Yankees.
Georgia Avenue and Pollard Blvd. The official address is 755 Hank Aaron Drive SE. MARTA 55 bus from Five Points station.
* Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The Georgia Institute of Technology (a.k.a. Georgia Tech) has played basketball here at "the Thrillerdome" since 1956, and recently completed a renovation. This building, named for legendary football coach Bill Alexander, also hosted the Hawks from their 1968 arrival from St. Louis to The Omni's opening in 1972, and again from 1997 to 1999 while Philips was built on The Omni's site.
I would advise against going to Dodd/Grant or Alexander when Tech play their arch-rivals, the University of Georgia, as those games not only sell out, but have been known to involve fights. Other than that, the stadium and arena have great atmosphere. UGa is 72 miles east, in Athens. It can be reached by Greyhound.)
The park also hosted high school football and the occasional prizefight, including the last fight of Jack Dempsey, in 1940, when he was 45 years old and beat pro wrestler Clarence "Cowboy" Luttrell.
But the proposed move would also get them out of the majority-black City of Atlanta and into the center of mostly-white, Tea Party-country Georgia. Gee, I wonder if there's a connection, especially now that the famously inclusive Ted Turner no longer owns the team? (Ironically, Tea Party groups have opposed the building of the stadium, citing the taxes that would have to be implemented for it.)
* Dahlberg Hall. Formerly the Atlanta Municipal Auditorium, this structure opened in 1909, and was the longtime home of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra until 1968, when Woodruff Arts Center opened. In 1970, it was the site of Muhammad Ali's return to boxing, after his legal exile. He knocked Jerry Quarry out in the 3rd round.
In 1979, Georgia State University bought the Auditorium, and converted it into their alumni hall, renaming it for alumnus Bill Dahlberg. Courtland Street & Auditorium Place SE. Just 5 blocks east of Five Points, and within walking distance.
* Non-Sports Sites. There's the Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum, 800 Cherokee Avenue SE, which tells the true story of that fire you saw in Gone With the Wind.
At the other end of the spectrum, giving all people their equal due, is the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site at 449 Auburn Avenue NE, which includes the house that was Dr. King’s birthplace and boyhood home, the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he and his father Martin Sr. preached, and his tomb. The King Memorial stop on MARTA's Blue and Green Lines serves both the King Center and the Cyclorama.
The Carter Center, housing Jimmy Carter's Presidential Library and Museum, and the Carter Center for Nonviolent Social Change, is at 453 Freedom Parkway. Bus 3 or 16 from Five Points stop on MARTA. The Carters have announced that, unlike most recent Presidents, they will not be buried at their Presidential Library, but rather in their hometown of Plains, 158 miles south of Atlanta.
There are also museums honoring Gone With the Wind author and Atlanta native Margaret Mitchell, Atlanta's native drink Coca-Cola, and Atlanta’s native news network CNN. And there's the city's major shopping district, Underground Atlanta, in the Five Points area.
Elvis sang at the historic Fox Theater early in his career, giving 6 shows in 2 days, March 14 and 15, 1956. 660 Peachtree Street NE at Ponce de Leon Avenue. MARTA Gold or Red to North Avenue. He topped that from June 22 to 24, giving 10 shows in 3 days (including a personal record 4 on the 23rd -- he was a lot younger then) at the Paramount Theater, next-door to the Loew's Grand Theater, famous for being the site of the world premiere of Gone With the Wind. Both the Paramount and the Loew's Grand (which burned in a suspected insurance scam in 1978) have been demolished, and replaced by the Georgia-Pacific Tower. John Wesley Dobbs Avenue & Peachtree Street NE. MARTA Gold or Red to Peachtree Center.
In addition to the preceding, Elvis gave concerts at the following Georgia locations: 2 shows at the City Auditorium in Waycross on February 22, 1956; the Bell Municipal Auditorium in Augusta on March 20 and June 27, 1956; 2 shows at the Savannah Sports Arena on June 25, 1956; the Savannah Civic Center on February 17, 1977; and at the Macon Coliseum on April 15, 1972 (2 shows); April 24, 1975; and August 31, 1976. He was supposed to sing there again on April 2, 1977, but his lifestyle was catching up with him, and the show was postponed, and done on June 1.
Atlanta is the home base of actor-writer-producer-director Tyler Perry, and all his TV shows and movies are set there. The house that stands in for the home of his most famous character, Mabel "Madea" Simmons, is at 1197 Avon Avenue SW, 3 miles southwest of downtown. MARTA Gold or Red to Oakland City, then a 10-minute walk north. I think it's a private home, so don't bother whoever lives there. Especially if there's somebody living there who's like Madea.
Years later, the 1988-92 TV version of In the Heat of the Night would also film in Covington. The 1967 movie version, like the TV version set in the fictional town of Sparta, Mississippi, was filmed in Tennessee and Illinois, as Sidney Poitier refused to cross the Mason-Dixon Line to film his scenes.
Atlanta has attracted the supernatural, including The Walking Dead, The Vampire Diaries and the TV series version of Teen Wolf. Much of Andy Griffith's ole-country lawyer show Matlock was filmed around the Fulton County Government Center and the State Capitol along MLK Drive, centered on Central Avenue.
But, for the most part, Matlock, like another Atlanta-based show, Designing Women, was filmed in L.A. The house that stood in for Julia Sugarbaker's home, at 1521 Sycamore Street in the show (the address does exist in neighboring Decatur), isn't even in Georgia: It's in Little Rock, Arkansas, hometown of series co-creator and writer Harry Thomason. (His co-creator and writer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason is from Poplar Bluff, Missouri.)
But if your mission is simply to have a good time in an unfamiliar city, and to “cross one more arena off your list,” then, by all means, go, stay safe, and have fun.