Could a true sports superstar thrive in Atlanta?

I found myself in an interesting debate on Twitter earlier today.

Amidst all this Jeremy Lin drama, there’s a lesser-known but still mentioned story that developed in Atlanta — the snubbing of Hawks forward Josh Smith from the NBA’s Eastern Conference All-Star team. Smith has been putting together the best season of his career, averaging 16 points per game, 9.5 rebounds per game and more than two blocks per game.

He’d be a major star in Los Angeles, complementing Kobe Bryant with those numbers and highlight-reel dunks, and he’d be a huge deal in New York, too. He can shoot well, and his defense has improved.

Yet all we’re talking about Lin, and don’t get me wrong, we should be. What he’s doing is amazing, and it should be noticed.

But what if Smith was the Knick and Lin was the Hawk?

This wouldn’t be that big of a deal, that’s what would be happening.

In a town that is about as small as a large-market can be, Atlanta has struggled to land a true superstar in any sport, and home-growing them seems to be just as difficult. But maybe that’s not our fault.

Imagine if Chipper Jones spent his entire career in a New York Yankees uniform. What if he had that career at third base with Derek Jeter playing to his left at shortstop?

They would have been the modern version of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.

The Falcons have a quarterback in Matt Ryan who is an up-and-comer, kind of like New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. Sanchez has only accomplished slightly more in his career than Ryan, and both came into the league at nearly the same time. Yet the guy who plays in New York is huge news, and the Atlanta guy just isn’t.

Is it their looks? It might make a small difference, but it’s not the whole reason by any means.

Matt Ryan hasn’t proven that he’s deserving of superstar status, but Sanchez really hasn’t, either. If Ryan were to win two Super Bowls in four years like Eli Manning did with the Giants, would he be a superstar? I doubt it, but he would definitely be elevated closer to that status.

But I’ll level with the other side — there’s always the example of Michael Vick to prove it is possible. When he was at his best, there were few athletes on this planet that were a bigger deal. He was a superstar, even though it was very short-lived.

So I’m thinking that it is possible to be a superstar in Atlanta, but it takes something far more drastic than it would in other big cities with more than one newspaper to get the word out.

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