NBA Fans Should Stop Bringing Up Michael Jordan Playing With the Flu

Due to the worldwide onset of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the NBA made the difficult and unprecedented decision to suspend all games for the foreseeable future. They made the call after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. This isn’t the first time an NBA player was sick, however. Michael Jordan’s flu and subsequent performance during a 1997 NBA Finals game is now a legendary story.

But there are a few good reasons why fans should stop bringing up how Jordan played with “the flu” in light of recent events.

The famous Michael Jordan “Flu Game” 

It was Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals. The Chicago Bulls were facing the Utah Jazz. The Jazz, led by Karl Malone and John Stockton, represented probably the greatest challenge to Jordan’s Bulls squad in this era. NBC play-by-play announcer Marv Albert announced prior to the game that Jordan was battling “flu-like” symptoms.

If Jordan was under the weather — and judging by the expressions on his face on the sidelines and inability to leave the court without help, he was — he barely showed it. He finished 38 points, seven rebounds, and five assists in a Bulls win. It’s still talked about as one of the most incredible Finals’ performances in NBA history. 

What was really going on the day of Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game”

As much as people love to call it the “Flu Game,” Jordan did not have the flu. According to Jordan’s personal trainer, Tim Grover, Jordan actually suffered from food poisoning.

The night before, the team was situated at their Park City, Utah hotel and room service had ended for the evening. Jordan decided to order a pizza, with no one else partaking. Grover recounted the experience to USA Today

“Out of everybody in the room, [MJ] was the only one who ate. Nobody else had it. And then 2 o’clock in the morning I get a call to my room. Come to the room. He’s curled up in the fetal position. We’re looking at him, finding the team physician at that time. Immediately I told him it’s food poisoning. Not the flu.”

Why NBA fans should stop bringing up the “Flu Game”

The NBA — as well as the rest of the nation and the world — is facing a pandemic crisis of epic proportions right now. The league is in uncharted territory. Their decision to suspend operations was done in the interest of player and public safety.

It does, however, somewhat contradict the glorification of Jordan’s performance during the flu game. Fans have spent years using that as an example of a great player rising to unbelievable heights under poor health conditions. 

But while there’s no doubting Jordan’s greatness, is the lionization of his performance with tremendous sickness really helpful right now? The NBA did right by its players and fans to shut the league down until the country can get a handle on the coronavirus. There’s nothing heroic about any team or player “playing through” this mess — it only puts lives at risk to do so. 

Talking about the flu game also sends a bad message to the fans who don’t play professional basketball but work regular jobs. There are many employers in this country who are allowing flexible telework policies to help increase social distancing.

Not everyone has that luxury though. People will still have to show up their jobs and put their lives in danger or risk being fired. That’s a sad reality for many. 

People should stop bringing up Jordan’s flu game right now for three primary reasons: 

  1. As noted above, Jordan had food poisoning, not the flu. 
  2. The flu is NOT the coronavirus. They have different symptoms and treatments. 
  3. This is not the time for the NBA and its players to fight through the sickness as Jordan did. It’s time to be smart and cautious.

The bottom line is that despite Jordan’s great game, people should generally stay home if they’re sick. In the case of the coronavirus, people should stay home even if they aren’t sick. The NBA did the right thing by pressing pause on its season, as some things are much more important than sports