“The big story here tonight — the story concerning Michael Jordan’s physical condition,” said play-by-play commentator Marv Albert on the broadcast that night before the game. “This is Jordan arriving two hours ago. He is suffering from flu-like symptoms.” By 1997, there weren’t many ways for Jordan to be considered an underdog. But playing through an illness — food poisoning or a sudden and severe virus had seized him between Games 4 and 5 in Salt Lake City — did add a new chapter to his legend.
With the series tied 2-2, there was no chance Jordan would miss Game 5, even when illness broke him down heading into the road contest in Salt Lake City. At the beginning of the game, Jordan appeared weak and out of place, allowing the Jazz to build a 16-point lead in the first quarter. Lacking energy, the Bulls’ future Hall of Famer looked lost in the first quarter, then scored 17 points in the second although at every stoppage in play it looked like the illness overcame him. On the court, he slumped over with his hands on his knees.
He struggled in the third, then flickered on in the fourth to score seven points in a 10-0 run that erased Utah’s 77-69 lead. His 3-pointer in the final half minute gave Chicago a lead it did not lose, setting up the famous video clip of teammate Scottie Pippen helping his rag-doll pal off the floor. As ill as Jordan was, however, it didn’t keep him from balling out. In Chicago’s 90-88 win, the ailing Jordan recorded an unbelievable 38 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 1 block.
“Probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” Jordan said afterward. “I almost played myself into passing out just to win a basketball game.” Not just any game, though — a Finals game. Bulls coach Phil Jackson said: “This was a heroic effort, one to add to the collection of efforts that make up his legend.”
Game 5 of the 1997 Finals might be the greatest performance of Jordan’s career. Yet it still doesn’t come without skepticism. Some people don’t believe that he had the flu in Utah in the middle of June — and actually, he didn’t. Fifteen years later, Jordan’s former personal trainer Tim Grover revealed that Jordan played against the Jazz with food poisoning, resulting from a hotel meal the night before. Regardless of what contributed to Jordan’s illness, the “Flu Game” or “Food Poisoning Game” or “Hangover Game” was simply amazing.