Chicago a global city but not home to global celebrities

Michael Jordan at the United Center in 2011

Former Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan, foreground, speaks at a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the Bulls’ 1991 NBA championship title during halftime at a March 2011 game between the Bulls and the Utah Jazz at Chicago’s United Center. (Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune / March 12, 2011)

Every year when awards season rolls around, the local media flutter with news of the Chicago connections.

When the Amazon series "Transparent" won best TV comedy at the 2015 Golden Globes, loud note was taken of the fact that its creator, Jill Soloway, grew up in Chicago.

When Common, the Chicago rapper, shared a Golden Globe for best original song, followed by a nomination for an Oscar, a few more motes of gold dust drifted onto our icy shores.

But no matter how much connection there is between Chicago and the celebrity world, here's the shocking truth:

There are no celebrities left in Chicago.

A man I know made this bold statement recently, and I've been weighing the truth of it.

None? Zip? Zero?

Celebrity is cheap these days, more cubic zirconia than diamond. People become famous for a spell, then vanish into obscurity as fast as you can say, "Honey Boo Boo."

I'm not talking about that kind of fame. I'm using celebrity to mean someone who is widely known, for a long time.

And I'm referring to the living. Al Capone no longer counts.

I mean people with big names, who occupy a home here, who help define the city to the world, people who someone in another city might ask about when you go to visit, who are so famous they verge on legendary.

Gina Rodriguez just won a Golden Globe for her role in "Jane the Virgin," but, however talented, she doesn't qualify.

In my decades in Chicago, the city has never been a celebrity hub, and that lack of celebrity dazzle has always been part of our character. Chicago's so-called celebrities consisted largely of local athletes, local restaurateurs, local media personalities, a few musicians and the apparently immortal Mike Ditka.

And yet, for many years, there were a few Chicagoans whose names traveled far beyond our borders.

Once, during Michael Jordan's heyday, I went on a magazine assignment through the islands of the South Pacific.

There, in some of the most remote places on the planet — Fiji, Tonga, Kiribati — I ran into people wearing Michael Jordan T-shirts.

Given that castoff American clothing is dumped on these poor nations in oppressive quantities, I thought the T-shirt wearers might not know who Jordan was, but every time I asked I was proved wrong.

They knew Jordan and, because of him, Chicago.

Now we have a Michael Jordan's Steak House but no Michael Jordan, and I'm willing to bet that the citizens of Kiribati don't follow Derrick Rose.

Once upon a recent time, we claimed Oprah too. Her TV studio helped revive the Near West Side. She lived along the Mag Mile. People came to Chicago because she and her show were here. Then she moved to Santa Barbara, where famous people go to be famous among their kind.

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