When you hear the name Michael Jordan, certain things probably come to mind. Maybe you can see His Airness taking off from the free-throw line to throw down a signature dunk; others might envision him sticking his tongue out or shrugging toward the scorers’ table. In the pantheon of Jordan lore, however, few moments can compete with his famous ‘Flu Game.’
Although the Flu Game has secured a place in sporting lore, it’s title may be a bit of a misnomer. In fact, Jordan’s longtime trainer believes the guard was suffering from food poisoning on that fateful night.
Setting the stage for Michael Jordan’s heroics
While the Flu Game stands alone as a legendary example of Michael Jordan’s sheer will to win, no event happens in a vacuum. In this case, the game in question occurred at the tail end of the 1997 NBA Finals.
During the 1996-97 campaign, the Chicago Bulls were looking to capture their second-straight NBA title. While the didn’t quite live up to the previous season’s standard—the club finished the season with a 69-13 record—they still dominated the league; Michael Jordan and his teammates then cruised through the playoffs, only dropping two games en route to the NBA Finals. There, the Bulls squared off against the Utah Jazz for the league title.
While Chicago won the first two games, Karl Malone and John Stockton wouldn’t go down without a fight. The Jazz rallied to tie the series at two games apiece; Game 5, however, would change everything.
The Flu Game might have been a case of food poisoning
As the story goes, Michael Jordan came down with the flu before Game 5. While His Airness would take the court and put in one of basketball’s most legendary performances, his longtime trainer doesn’t believe it was the flu at all.
According to Tim Grover, the Bulls were staying in Park City, Utah, and Jordan got hungry after the hotel’s kitchen had closed. The only option was to order a pizza; when the delivery came, however, things started to get suspicious.
“So we order a pizza, they come to deliver it, five guys come to deliver this pizza,” Grover explained on TrueHoopTV in 2013, according to ESPN. “And I’m just … I take the pizza, and I tell them, I said, ‘I got a bad feeling about this.’ I said, ‘I just got a bad feeling about this.’ Out of everybody in the room, he was the only one that ate. Nobody else … then 2 o’clock in the morning, I get a call to my room. I come to the room, he’s curled up, he’s curled up in the fetal position. We’re looking at him. We’re finding the team physician at that time. And immediately I said, ‘It’s food poisoning.’ Guaranteed. Not the flu.”
Grover’s story has remained consistent over the years, as we recently heard on Pardon My Take. For what it’s worth, Phil Jackson also told ESPN Los Angeles that Ron Harper shared the “bad pizza” theory.
Flu or food poisoning, Michael Jordan wouldn’t be stopped
Whether Michael Jordan had the flu, was suffering from food poisoning, or battling through any other issue, we know two things. The guard was struggling that night, but it didn’t stop him from putting in a legendary performance.
Despite being visibly unwell, Jordan potted 38 points to lead the Bulls to victory; they would win again in Game 6, clinching the title. While no one could ever question His Airness’ will to win, he took things to another level that night in Utah. With the season on the line, nothing was going to stop him.
Michael Jordan has one of the best resumes in professional sports, but moments live on longer than any stat. For an entire generation of basketball fans, the Flu Game was that moment.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference