June 11, 1997, is a date that will never be forgotten in NBA history. It’s the day Chicago Bulls icon Michael Jordan played in Game 5 of the 1997 Finals against the Utah Jazz despite suffering from food poisoning, although it’s still called the “Flu Game.”
Jordan’s performance against the Jazz was one for the ages considering he was severely under the weather. The MVP showed his will to win and proved that he was fully deserving of the Superman nickname since he put forth a superhero spectacle.
However, if he had to do it all over again, Jordan would actually sit out the “Flu Game,” which may be a shocking revelation to some people.
Michael Jordan: “Let’s just say, if I had to go through it again, I’d miss it”
During the 1997 offseason, Jordan told SLAM Magazine that he would sit out the “Flu Game” if he had to do it all over again since he jeopardized his health.
“Let’s just say, if I had to go through it again, I’d miss it,” Jordan said. “That’s how sick I was. And I jeopardized my health, more so than I should have. And true, we won a Championship—I think that was the deciding game. But hindsight tells me I must have been a fool, and I don’t think I’d do it again if I had to.”
According to noted Chicago author Jack M. Silverstein, the “Flu Game” was Jordan’s 245th consecutive NBA game (preseason, regular season, All-Star games, and postseason) since returning from baseball at the end of the 1993-94 season. He had every excuse in the world to sit out since he was throwing up left and right all night long before Game 5 after eating bad pizza and had IVs hooked up to him before the contest started.
However, Jordan knew he had to play at the moment since the series with Utah was tied at 2-2.
Michael Jordan scored 38 points in 44 minutes
Jordan scored a game-high 38 points in 44 minutes against the Jazz, playing more minutes than any Jazz player and fewer only to Scottie Pippen’s 45. With 45 seconds remaining in regulation, His Airness tied the game with a free throw, missed the second one, got his own rebound, and made a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 25 seconds to play off a precise pass from Pippen.
After nailing the 3-pointer, Jordan slumped into Pippen’s arms, creating one of the most legendary pictures in sports history. Despite being sick, MJ shot 13-of-27 from the field and guided the Bulls to a 90-88 victory at the Delta Center. Chicago took a 3-2 lead in the series and avoided losing three games in a row in the Finals for the first time in franchise history.
It’s interesting that Jordan said he wouldn’t play in Game 5 if he had to do it again. Bulls fans are certainly glad that the 10-time scoring champion suited up and delivered a vintage performance, especially since the team would have probably lost had Jordan not played.
The Bulls had a chance to wrap up the series in Game 6 at home. Jordan recovered from his illness and made sure a Game 7 wouldn’t be necessary.
Bulls won Game 6 behind Steve Kerr’s game-winning shot
Jordan scored 39 points in Game 6. He also had the game-winning assist to Steve Kerr, who nailed a jumper with 5.0 seconds left in regulation to give the Bulls a two-point lead. Pippen then stole the Jazz’s inbounds pass and threw it ahead to Toni Kukoc, who slammed it home at the buzzer to cap off Chicago’s fifth title.
In the same interview with SLAM Magazine where he talked about the “Flu Game,” Jordan spoke about how happy he was for Kerr to hit the game-winning shot.
“I’m happy for Steve,” Jordan said. “Steve had an opportunity to win in Game 4. In the corner. And he missed it, and he beat himself up for it. It was great for him to get himself redeemed. I think it can really help him going into this year.”
It’s fascinating to think about how the 1997 Finals would have gone if Jordan didn’t play in Game 5. Fortunately for Bulls fans, they don’t have to live in that world.