CHICAGO — Athletes being inducted into the U.S. Olympic Committee's Hall of fame walked the carpet at the induction ceremony Wednesday in Chicago, part of a final push to drum up buzz about the city's bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
The spotlight on the event dimmed slightly because one of the most high-profile backers of the city's bid, basketball great Michael Jordan, didn't attend, even though the 1992 gold-medal Olympic basketball Dream Team he played on was being inducted.
The former Chicago Bull has already lent his name and support to the bid, appearing in a public service campaign, but his absence did take some of the star power out of the event meant to put the sports spotlight on Chicago.
"Everyone wants to see Michael. Being inducted into anything with Michael is a great honor for us but it's Michael, I guess that mystique is part of what makes him so appealing to everybody," said David Robinson, one of Jordan's Olympic teammates.
Chicago is looking for all the attention it can get ahead of the International Olympic Committee's decision on which city will host the 2016 Games. Chicago is a finalist along with Tokyo, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro. The IOC will meet in Copenhagen on Oct. 2 to decide.
About 3,600 people attended the USOC induction ceremony, which was also the final blowout fundraiser for local Olympic organizers and raised about $5 million. About two dozen athletes, coaches and an Olympic official were inducted including such big names as basketball greats Patrick Ewing and Scottie Pippen, track star Michael Johnson and Mike Krzyzewski, who was an assistant coach on the 1992 Dream Team.
But Jordan isn't the only big name from Chicago who local organizers are counting on to help land the games as the IOC decision nears.
President Barack Obama could be the one who helps seals the deal. The former Illinois senator has a home in Chicago just a few blocks from the park where the proposed Olympic Stadium would be built.
"Certainly it will help put the bid over the top if the president can make his presence known in Copenhagen but I think the city has covered all bases," USOC acting CEO Stephanie Streeter said.
Then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair was widely credited with helping London land the 2012 Games because he lobbied IOC members in person in the days before the decisive vote.
Streeter said U.S. Olympic officials haven't gotten word yet on whether Obama will be in Copenhagen and if he does come they likely won't know about it until the last minute.
Obama already has been a frequent and vocal supporter of the city's bid, recently appearing in a videotaped message shown to Olympic officials in Africa and forming a White House Office of Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport.
"Let's face it ... in many places around the world he's kind of a rock star," said Olympic gymnastics gold medalist Bart Conner, who's active in promoting Chicago's bid and attended Wednesday's event.
At this late hour in the city's bid, Conner said support from city residents also needs to be obvious.
"I think that's one of the most important things we can do is demonstrate to the IOC our city believes in the games, believes in what the Olympics stand for and will treat it right," Conner said.
But that hasn't always been so clear cut. Local Olympic officials have spent weeks holding public meetings around the city after some aldermen were critical of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley for telling the IOC he would sign a contract requiring the city to take full financial responsibility for the games.
Aldermen worried about the city's potential liability and complained they had been kept in the dark about Daley's plans.
But Daley has athletes such as Pippen behind him as he and others at the induction ceremony pledged to do what they could to keep building momentum for Chicago's bid.
"I think the mayor and his staff has done an outstanding job. Just keep cheering them on and hopefully things work out," Pippen said.
(This version CORRECTS Corrects Streeter's title in 9th graf.)