Sports

Food poisoning or the flu? Whatever it was, Michael Jordan pushed through for the Bulls.

Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan is helped off the court by teammate Scottie Pippen, right, at the end of Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Jordan was fighting flu-like symptoms, and scored 38 points as the Bulls beat the Jazz 90-88 on June 11, 1997.
Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan is helped off the court by teammate Scottie Pippen, right, at the end of Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Jordan was fighting flu-like symptoms, and scored 38 points as the Bulls beat the Jazz 90-88 on June 11, 1997.

There are plenty of moments that define the career of NBA legend Michael Jordan.

There's the 1988 Slam Dunk contest, where he glides from the free throw line, suspended in the air, legs cocked back behind him, defying gravity in front of his hometown Chicago Bulls crowd. There is the 1996 photo of him overcome with emotion and crying on the locker room floor on Father's Day, moments after winning his fourth NBA title and three years after the murder of his father, James.

There's also the photo of his Chicago teammate, Scottie Pippen, taken 21 years ago, on June 11, 1997, assisting a lethargic and sick Jordan off the court in Utah, in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, also know as the "flu game."

Heading into that game, the Bulls and Jazz were tied at two games apiece. Before tip-off, word spread that Jordan was suffering from flu-like symptoms. At 2 a.m., the morning of the game, Jordan’s trainer, Tim Grover, was called to M.J.’s room, where he found the former North Carolina guard curled up in a fetal position. Jordan had a fever, was dehydrated and had the chills, and was barely in any shape to walk, let alone play in the NBA Finals.

But somehow, Jordan pressed on, made it to the arena, and was on the floor for tip-off. Not only did he play, Jordan started for the Bulls, despite sleeping all day in an attempt to shake the symptoms.

During breaks in the game Jordan would put ice packs on his neck to cool down his body. He was constantly drinking Gatorade because he was dehydrated and could barely stand on his feet because he was so weak.

Chicago fell behind 13 in the first quarter, but Jordan scored 17 points in the second quarter to rally his team, finishing with 38 points in a 90-88 victory. Jordan managed to play 44 minutes, shooting 48 percent from the field and knocking down two of his five three-point attempts.

Jordan collapsed in Pippen’s arms as they walked to the bench together. The Bulls would go on to win the NBA title in Game 6, Jordan's fifth title.

At the time, there was speculation that Jordan had food poisoning, and not the flu. Grover, the trainer, among others, believed that a pizza shop had intentionally poisoned food that was delivered to Jordan's room at the Park City, Utah, hotel where he was staying.

Replicas of the red and black Air Jordan 12s he wore in the game were sold as the "Flu Game" shoe.

Jordan would go on to win one final NBA title with the Bulls in 1998 before retiring for a second time. He returned to the court with the Washington Wizards in 2001, playing two seasons before retiring for good after the 2003 season.

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