Michael Jordan's Flu Game: Reaction to Epic 1997 NBA Finals Performance vs. Jazz

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 17, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - JUNE 11: Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls rests during Game Five of the 1997 NBA Finals played against the Utah Jazz on June 11, 1997 at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Chicago Bulls defeated the Utah Jazz 90-88.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1997 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The shot. The shrug. "A spectacular move by Michael Jordan." Be Like Mike. Double-nickel. "I'm back." The GOAT.

The flu game.

Part of Michael Jordan's enduring greatness is the fact that so few words are needed to conjure up images of his most memorable moments as an iconic six-time champion who defined a generation of basketball.

Few of those moments have remained in the collective consciousness quite as vividly as the flu game.

ESPN released a montage of its commentators remembering the flu game leading up to Sunday's episodes of The Last Dance documentary that featured Hannah Storm saying, "You almost forgot as this game went on that when it started, Michel Jordan was iffy for the game because he became so dominant in this contest."

It wasn't just any contest.

The Chicago Bulls appeared to be in complete control of the 1997 NBA Finals when they won Games 1 and 2 at home, but the Utah Jazz bounced back and tied the series with victories in Games 3 and 4. Game 5 was a critical swing game in Utah before the series shifted back to Chicago for the final two contests.

All Jordan did was tally 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals in 44 minutes, 17 seconds of playing time while leading the Bulls to a 90-88 victory.

His team trailed by five going into the final quarter when he shifted into takeover mode by scoring 15 of Chicago's 23 points in the fourth. With less than a minute remaining, he tied the game with a free throw and then grabbed the offensive rebound when he missed the second.

Naturally, he drilled a three-pointer after keeping the possession alive and gave the Bulls the lead for good.

The image of Scottie Pippen helping Jordan off the floor after the herculean effort is one of the most famous in basketball history.

"He carried me for, like, 11 seasons," Pippen joked when asked about the moment on ESPN's The Jump in 2018 (3:15 mark). "Me and Michael, we had a special bond."

It should come as no surprise Jordan's health was the pregame focus. Marv Albert introduced the NBC broadcast by saying, "The big story here tonight is the story concerning Michael Jordan's physical conditions" before explaining the Bulls superstar had flu-like symptoms, looked "shaky" and did not go to shootaround or eat during the day.

By the time His Airness drilled the clutch three-pointer and staggered back on defense, Albert said he "looks like he's a boxer hanging on along the ropes." The broadcaster also called the effort a "courageous, classic performance" after the final buzzer.

"Michael Jordan knew the ledge was steep and perilous," Mike Wise of the New York Times wrote the next morning. "He and his teammates had one foot dangling over it with three minutes, seven seconds remaining. The Delta Center was shaking, the Chicago Bulls were trailing and the head of the best player in the world was spinning."

After detailing No. 23's efforts, Wise noted, "Battling the spirit and savvy of the Utah Jazz and the nauseating symptoms of the flu, Jordan tonight backpacked his team from the depths of despair."

John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times kept things simple: "So much for Michael Jordan being a mere mortal."

Jordan didn't offer much after the game as he shifted into recovery mode but did say, per Wise, "I feel better that we won. I endured it, and it went to a good cause because we won. Now we want to go home and accomplish what we want to accomplish."

Chicago did just that with a win in Game 6 to clinch its fifth championship. The Bulls defeated the Jazz once again in the 1998 NBA Finals to complete the second three-peat of Jordan's career.