On 11 June 1997, Michael Jordan does something incredible. Despite an illness, he leads the Bulls to victory. There are conspiracy theories surrounding the “Flu Game”.
There are few games in the history of sport about which a single name says it all.
The Chicago Bulls’ fifth meeting with the Utah Jazz in the 1997 NBA Finals is one of them. To this day, two words are enough and all basketball fans know what is meant: “Flu Game”.
Because on the evening of 11 June 1997 – exactly 25 years ago – the great Michael Jordan looked like a pile of misery for once.
Jordan arrives at the arena exhausted
Even in the hours before, the superstar’s condition was the dominant topic. “The big story of the day is Michael Jordan’s physical condition,” NBC commentator Marv Albert opened the broadcast of Game 5 in Salt Lake City.
Afterwards, Jordan can be seen arriving at the arena, already completely exhausted. The commentary: “He’s fighting the flu, hasn’t eaten anything and has just been in bed all day.”
Exercise is normally out of the question at such times. Not to mention a basketball game – a decisive one for the championship at that – in front of thousands of completely unleashed fans of the opponent in the witch’s cauldron Delta Center.
Jordan struggles into game against Jazz
But Jordan not only moved, he fought, struggled and slowly found his way into the game. But his mission seemed hopeless. Chicago was already down by 16 points at the beginning of the second quarter.
If the crowd hadn’t made such a hell of a racket, you might have heard Jordan’s stomach rebel. “I couldn’t breathe. I had hardly any energy, my mouth was completely dry. They gave me Gatorade, but all I could think of was an IV,” the now 59-year-old megastar later recalled of that game.
And yet he kept playing and suddenly started scoring. He scored 17 points in the second quarter alone, and by the break his Bulls were back within four points. With renewed confidence, but still weakened, Jordan went into the dressing room.
Why he felt so miserable that evening, probably not even he knew. To this day, the wildest speculations and theories surround that day. This is another aspect that gives rise to the myth surrounding the “Flu Game”.
Because whether it was a flu at all has not been perfectly clarified to this day. The rumour persists that Jordan had food poisoning.
Was Jordan poisoned deliberately?
And now it’s getting conspiratorial: Jordan was deliberately served a poisoned pizza in his hotel room on the evening before the match, at least according to his fitness trainer at the time, Tim Grover.
Jordan got hungry late in the evening, but all the restaurants were already closed and the hotel no longer offered room service.
“So we ordered pizza and then five guys came right away to deliver this pizza. I had a bad feeling,” Grover told ESPN back in 2013.
Jordan was the only one who ate the pizza – and only a short time later he was lying on the floor, plagued by stomach cramps. In the latest episode of the Netflix documentary “The Last Dance”, Grover once again confirmed his thesis.
However, the then assistant manager of the suspected fast food outlet subsequently contradicted this. “I told everyone that I was making the pizza and no one else. After that I was driven to the hotel alone,” Craig Fite said on 1280 The Zone’s The Big Show.
So according to him, there were not five people but just him and the driver at the hotel that night. His theory was this: “Jordan was smoking so many cigars at the time, the windows were all open. You all know it gets very cold when the sun goes down in Park City.”
Complete clarity is unlikely to be forthcoming in this case. Quite the opposite of the outcome of the game in Salt Lake City.
Pippen must prop up fellow Bulls player Jordan
Jordan kept getting subbed in briefly and somehow managed to explode in those few brief moments, like on a hugely important three-pointer in crunch time. In the end, it was a total of 38 points!
But how weak he must have felt in the final quarter is shown by a picture that describes this “flu game” better than so many words could.
Supported by his congenial team-mate Scottie Pippen, he dragged himself off the floor that night. The Bulls had won the “Flu Game” 90-88.
A few days later, they won their fifth of six titles with Michael Jordan in Chicago.