Chicago’s Next Dance
It was appointment television for five straight Sundays, that brilliant ESPN documentary “The Last Dance” that chronicled Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls on their epic journey to six championships in the 1990s. Even folks who are not sports fans found something to cheer about during this stay-at-home season we are all enduring.
It was also an unexpected chance to cheer for Chicago, as the city was very much a part of the story. From the celebration crowds at Grant Park to the packed houses at the Chicago Stadium and later the new United Center, Jordan and the Bulls helped share Chicago with the world.
The question before us today is what will be Chicago’s next dance? But first a quick look back.
The 1990s were very much a coming out for the city, as we shook off rust from the old economic structure to become the Chicago 2.0 that continues to today. While new buildings rose along the lakefront, many neighborhoods were reborn. There were also other significant ways in which the spotlight shown on Chicago. Consider, for example:
The reign of Queen Oprah: The local talk show host who started at ABC7 in Chicago was well on her way to international fame in the 1990s, with her daily broadcast originating from Harpo Studios on the near west side.
The 1994 World Cup: Chicago hosted the opening ceremonies and 5 soccer matches for the largest sporting event in the world, the first time ever in the U.S., and the chance for Chicago to shine on a global stage.
The 1996 Democratic Convention: Ever since the “whole world is watching” chants and riots of 1968, Chicago was haunted by the last time Democrats gathered here. But in 1996, from a gleaming new United Center, the city was able to turn that page with a successful convention.
The celebrity explosion of Jordan’s Bulls: As “The Last Dance” so expertly showed, these Bulls were truly rock stars everywhere they went. For the world, Air Jordan’s swoosh finally replaced Capone’s rat-a-tat-tat as the sound of the city.
But what about today? What will be the next time Chicago dances on a world stage? The answer, of course, goes well beyond the future success of our sports teams. Our city has been challenged on many fronts, with deep and intractable problems. The pandemic has only laid bare those issues by showing the fragile nature of our social structures.
We will not be able to truly celebrate the greatness of Chicago until we tackle these problems: the plague of gun violence, the search for economic and racial equity and the lack of prosperity in many neighborhoods. These are the opponents we need to defeat before we can call ourselves champions again.
There are signs of hope. We have a strong roster of committed organizations and leaders focused on urban issues – from violence reduction to environmental justice to education reform – who are deeply engaged. We need to expand that effort with even more vigor as we emerge from this crisis. Let’s all work toward meaningful progress so the next dance can be shared by everyone.