On This Day: Michael Jordan Gives Fans the Iconic ‘Flu Game’ in 1997

by Suzanne Halliburton

Who ya got as the GOAT — Michael Jordan or LeBron James? When it comes to debating the greatest NBA player ever, put the Flu Game in Jordan’s favor.

The Flu Game turns 24 years old today. It commemorates the Chicago Bulls’ 90-88 game five road victory over the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals. Michael Jordan didn’t tell anyone how sick he was. Still, he scored a flurry of 38 points in 44 minutes of action. And his three-pointer with 25 seconds to play broke a tie game.

“I almost played myself into passing out,” Michael Jordan told reporters after the game. “I came in and I was almost dehydrated. And it was all just to win a basketball game. I couldn’t breathe. My energy level was really low. My mouth was really dry. They started giving me Gatorade and I thought about an IV.”

Chicago coach Phil Jackson said his star definitely was ailing that night. He said his eyes were cloudy. His body language suggested he couldn’t play very many minutes. But then again, an NBA championship was on the line. Coming into the Flu Game, the teams each had two wins.

It Probably Wasn’t the Flu. Michael Jordan Had Food Poisoning

The 2020 ESPN docu-series The Last Dance highlighted The Flu Game in the ninth episode. In hindsight, Jordan said his flu probably was food poisoning. He thinks he ate a bad pizza.

Jordan’s trainer confirmed the bad pizza fears in an interview in 2013. Tim Grover told TrueHoopTv about a suspect pizza delivery.

“So we order a pizza,” Grover said. “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, (Michael Jordan) 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.”

Jordan Collapsed in Scottie Pippen’s Arms. He Was That Sick

The year before, Bulls coach Phil Jackson also said he doubted his star player ever had the flu. He, too, thought it was food poisoning. But still, no one disputes Michael Jordan wasn’t feeling well as he played an amazing game.

Fans noticed that Jordan seemed to collapse in the arms of teammate Scottie Pippen. Apparently, Pippen told Michael Jordan not to worry about playing defense. He had that covered. Just work your offensive magic.

“But, it looks like Michael, basically, collapses in Scottie’s arms more than anything else,” Phil Jackson said. “Not only does Scottie give him a hug, but it looks like (Jordan) also was leaning on him for some support.”

Michael Jordan told NBA.com the game was the most difficult he’s ever played.

“If we had lost,” Jordan said, “I would have been devastated.”

The Bulls won the next game over the Jazz, 90-86. Michael Jordan scored 39 points in the title-clinching game. He still wasn’t feeling well, but gaudy championship trophies can cure a lot of ailments.