Perhaps the greatest performance of Michael Jordan’s career is — in typical fashion — shrouded in both adversity and mystery.
That performance, of course, is the “Flu Game” in which Jordan, fighting “flu-like symptoms,” submitted 38 points (13-for-27 shooting), seven rebounds, five assists and, effectively, the game-winning shot in a barn-burning 90-88 road victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals. The win vaulted the Bulls ahead 3-2 in the series and set the stage for a clincher in Chicago two days later. It also produced perhaps the most iconic and enduring image of the Bulls’ dynasty years:
Pippen carrying Jordan off the court in the infamous "Flu Game" pic.twitter.com/35pgIkQWuT— Sneaker Chefs (@SneakerChefs) October 8, 2014
The “Flu Game” — and the mythology which surrounds it — is sure to be a focal point of the upcoming finale of “The Last Dance.” Long have conspiracies swirled that Jordan’s debilitating fatigue and apparent discomfort throughout the contest was the result of excess the night before.
In some ways that’s not far off, according to Jordan’s personal trainer Tim Grover, who is featured prominently throughout “The Last Dance.” He confirmed food poisoning the culprit of Jordan’s ailment in an appearance on Barstool Sports’ “Pardon My Take” podcast.
“One hundred percent it was food poisoning, 100 percent,” Grover said. “But obviously it just sounds better to be the 'Flu Game' than the 'Food Poisoning Game.'”
To hear Grover tell it, the fiasco began with a pizza order from the only open food vendor he could find in quaint Park City, Utah, on an innocuous June night. Apparently, word had gotten around the city where the Bulls (and thus, Jordan) were staying, so upon answering the hotel door, Grover found five delivery people.
“I said, ‘Michael, I got a bad feeling about this,’” Grover said. “And he was like, ‘Ah man, f**k you.’ I was like, ‘OK.’”
Jordan downed a couple slices (according to Grover, he was the only one to have the pizza) and crashed. Hours later, Grover got a call.
“Then, about 3 o’ clock in the morning, I get a call to my room that just says, ‘Hey, man, come to MJ’s room’ and he’s literally curled up in the fetal position,” Grover continued. A few slices of Utah ‘za had toppled the GOAT.
“I’ve not known any flu that can hit you that fast, but I know how quick food poisoning can hit you,” Grover said.
Still, Jordan found a way onto the floor and, of course, posited an absolutely vintage performance. Beyond points amassed, rebounds snatched or assists dished, 44 minutes played punctuate his stat line.
“Once you’re in the game, you gotta stay,” Grover recalled telling Jordan. “You gotta play as long as you freaking can, because once you sit down, that’s it.”
And so he did. There will likely never come a definitive end to tinfoil hat speculation surrounding this night, but Grover attempted to put as resounding a cap on it as possible on “Pardon My Take.”
“That’s my story, that’s what I observed,” Grover said. “I was in the room when all this was going on, so if anybody had a better look than I did I’d like to see who that person was because they definitely weren’t there.”