The story is so famous I probably don’t have to write it out. Most readers could tell it off the top of their head. It goes like this: The night before Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals, Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan woke up with “flu-like symptoms”. He was reportedly vomiting, hadn’t eaten anything all day, and skipped both shootaround and practice before the game.
Then, it happened.
Jordan went nuts, scoring 38 points on 13-of-27 shooting, adding seven rebounds, five assists, and three steals while heading to the free-throw line 12 times. He played 44 minutes, and the Bulls beat the Jazz, 90-88, to take a 3-2 lead.
The Bulls would go on to beat the Jazz in Game 6 at home in Chicago, 90-86, to put the cap on their incredible 69-13 season.
It’s now 20 years later to the day, and the game is fresh in the minds of both those who witnessed it as it happened in 1997 and in the collective memories of NBA fans who have galvanized Jordan as the greatest player ever.
Of course, there are now theories about what really happened in the Flu Game. Some have speculated that Jordan was actually just hungover, or that he was exaggerating how sick he really was. The report over the years has been that Jordan actually had food poisoning. A recent story at The Undefeated quoted Jordan’s personal trainer Tim Grover saying as much.
“So we order a pizza, they come to deliver it, five guys come to deliver this pizza. 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 …,” Grover said in 2013. “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.”
There you have it. Bad pizza. Does that make the story better or worse? I don’t know, let’s give it another 20 years.