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Sam Smith calls Michael Jordan’s poison-pizza story ‘complete nonsense’

Michael Jordan

11 Jun 1997: Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls talks to the referee during game five of the NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Bulls defeated the Jazz 90-88. Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr /Allsport

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Michael Jordan claimed he ate an entire pizza himself the night before Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals and got food poisoning. Jordan’s trainer, Tim Grover, and personal assistant, George Koehler, corroborated, saying the pizza was suspiciously delivered by five guys.

A Utah man who claims to have made and delivered the pizza insisted the pizza wasn’t tainted.

Rumors of Jordan being hungover persist.

What really made Jordan sick during the “flu game”?

Sam Smith, who literally wrote the book on Jordan and covered the Bulls for the Chicago Tribune, called the poisoned-pizza story “complete nonsense” while appearing on 95.7 The Game.

Smith expanded on
The Dan Patrick Show:
It wasn’t food poisoning. He made that up.

He wasn’t poisoned. That’s not what happened.

Michael Jordan, the most protected, nobody knows where he is, secure person – all of a sudden, five guys from the pizza place show?

He was ill. There’s no question. I think – I think – he had something that wasn’t as manly as maybe some other episodes.

I think because what they were doing was going up to Park City, in the mountains, in the ski area to stay. That’s where they stayed. So, they had to practice in Salt Lake City. They kept coming in and out, in and out. And I think it was altitude sickness. The symptoms that he had fit that much more than anything else that he had.

There was some sort of illness. There’s no question he was ill. I wouldn’t deny that. He definitely was. He was sick. But he wasn’t poisoned.

Smith is a journalist, not a doctor. I don’t trust his medical diagnosis. But he was positioned to gather and vet information. Phrases like “He made that up” and “That’s not what happened” are unequivocal. Even if he is just guessing on altitude sickness, Smith might have good reason to rule out food poisoning. He certainly talks like he does.

There might be something to Park City’s climate, though. Craig Fite, who said he delivered the pizza (with one other person, without knowing it was definitely going to the Bulls, let alone Jordan), recalled the windows being open in the hotel room as Jordan smoked a cigar. Fite found that notable because, when the sun goes behind the mountains, Park City can get chilly. The combination of cigar smoke, cold weather and altitude could have made Jordan sick.

But that still leaves questions.

Why make up the poison-pizza story? Grover told it in 2013, and Jordan confirmed it in “The Last Dance” (a documentary over which he held control). But before that, everyone remembers Jordan as having the flu.

Is food poisoning more manly than the flu? Was the flu more manly than altitude sickness? It’s tough to track these ideas of masculinity.

It’d be remarkable if the food-poisoning story were made up. Grover and Koehler provided so many supporting details. If this were a lie, it’s an elaborate one.

But we can’t put it past Jordan to lie – even when he’s on tape admitting otherwise.