Today marks the 21-year anniversary of the Michael Jordan ‘Flu Game.’ It was Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz, and the series was tied 2-2. The big story coming into the matchup was Jordan’s health.
“He is suffering from flulike symptoms,” announced Marv Albert during the broadcast.
The Jazz were favorites going into the game, -1.5 for you gamblers out there, but that was thwarted by MJ. Despite having flu-like symptoms, Jordan rose to the occasion like we were used to always seeing him do. Jordan finished with an amazing 38 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 1 block, including a dagger 3-pointer with less than a minute left to seal the Bulls victory.
“Probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, I almost played myself into passing out just to win a basketball game,” Jordan said afterward.
I know a lot of people think Jordan was hungover, but Tim Grover (Jordan’s trainer at the time) assured me that MJ wasn’t out partying the night before, and was indeed sick.
There were also others who thought he was “making this up”. Here’s David Halberstam’s account of it all, from his book “Playing for Keeps,” via The New Yorker:
At about 8 A.M., one of Jordan’s bodyguards, fixtures in his entourage, called Chip Schaefer, the team trainer, to say that Jordan had been up all night with flulike symptoms and was seriously ill. Rushing to Jordan’s room, Schaefer found him curled up in the fetal position and wrapped in blankets, though the thermostat had been cranked up to its maximum. The greatest player in the world looked like a weak little zombie.
Schaefer immediately hooked Jordan up to an I.V. and tried to get as much fluid into him as possible. He also gave him medication and decided to let him rest as much as he could that morning. Word of Jordan’s illness quickly spread among journalists at the Delta Center, where the game was to be played, and the general assumption was that he would not play. One member of the media, though, was not so sure––James Worthy, who, after a brilliant career with the Los Angeles Lakers, was working for the Fox network. Having played with Jordan at North Carolina and against him in the pros, Worthy knew not only how Michael drove himself but, even more important, how he motivated himself. When reports circulated that Michael had a fever of a hundred and two, Worthy told the other Fox reporters that the fever meant nothing. “He’ll play,” Worthy said. “He’ll figure out what he can do, he’ll conserve his strength in other areas, and he’ll have a big game.”
In the locker room before the game, Jordan’s teammates were appalled by what they saw. Michael, normally quite dark, was a color somewhere between white and gray, Bill Wennington, the Bulls’ backup center, recalled, and his eyes, usually so vital, looked dead.
The ‘Flu Game’ will go down as one of Jordan’s most memorable performances, and I’m just glad I was able to view it live.
And in case you miss Stuart Scott as much as I do, here is a nice throwback of him on MJ’s performance: