Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel attends Game 2 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference finals between the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls, Wednesday, May 18, 2011, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Can Derrick Rose do for Mayor Emanuel what Michael Jordan did for Richard M. Daley?
In the early 1990s, when Daley embarked on his campaign to make Chicago a global city, he was aided by the fact that the most popular athlete on the planet was a Chicagoan. In France, in China, in Thailand, Jordan’s Bulls became the face of Chicago. It was a big improvement over Al Capone.
Derrick Rose is the Bulls’ first MVP since Jordan’s final season here, in 1998. But even though he’s more of a Chicagoan than Jordan, he’s less of a candidate to represent the city worldwide, even if the Bulls win this year’s NBA championship.
It’s not just because Jordan was the greatest basketball player of all time. Wayne Gretzky was the greatest hockey player of all time, and he didn’t do anything for Edmonton’s image. Jordan was an entertainment figure -- he starred in Space Jam and hosted Saturday Night Live. He was the subject of books by Tribune reporters Bob Greene and Sam Smith. He was the pre-eminent celebrity pitchman of the ’90s, hawking Air Jordans and Michael Jordan cologne, as well as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and the Chevy Blazer. He was one of the world’s most stylish men. Jordan’s influence was so overwhelming he even made baldness fashionable, just by shaving his head. Jordan crossed the line from sporting icon to cultural icon in a way few athletes ever have: Babe Ruth, Joe Namath, Muhammad Ali and David Beckham come to mind.
Rose, who has barely lived outside Chicago, seems unlikely to match Jordan’s international sophistication. But he’s already ventured into one area that Jordan avoided: politics. Early in his career, Jordan refused to endorse candidates, saying “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” (Later, he would appear in an ad for presidential candidate Bill Bradley, and donate money to Barack Obama.) Rose appeared at Obama’s campaign kickoff at Navy Pier, sharing the stage with Rahm Emanuel.
While Rose is less likely to represent Chicago to the world, he’s more likely to become a beloved figure here, since he grew up in Englewood and graduated from Simeon High School. Jordan, the scoring, moneymaking machine, was never a lovable character.
We don’t need another athlete to make Chicago a global city. We’re there. But we could use an athlete to bring the city together: North Side, South Side, West Side and East Side. Chicago always needs help with that. And no athlete is in a better position to that than Rose, who could bring his hometown team a championship. Emanuel is right there on the sidelines, cheering for the first great civic moment of his mayoralty.
Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!