June 11, 1997. Any Utah Jazz fan alive at the time remembers. And current fans surely know about it. Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game” in game five of the 1997 NBA Finals broke many a Jazz fan’s heart.
Last April and May, ESPN aired a revealing docuseries about Michael Jordan’s Bulls teams, especially the last two that faced the Jazz in consecutive NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, called The Last Dance. Social media was abuzz after episode nine aired, in which Jordan’s trainer, Tim Grover, revealed that Michael didn’t actually have the flu – he had food poisoning from a pizza he ate late the night before the game, which MJ confirmed. A pizza from Park City – since the Bulls were staying up here during the ’97 Finals.
Grover actually broke the news back in 2013 on a podcast and in his book about training Jordan: Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable. He didn’t say where they ordered the pizza from, but he did mention “when the delivery guys came to the door, there were like four or five guys.” MJ also recalled about five guys delivering the pizza. And Grover added in The Last Dance that he had a bad feeling about the delivery – a feeling which was confirmed when MJ woke up in the early morning “throwing up left and right.”
There was already a question of if it was the flu or food poisoning the day after the game, too. Park Record columnist Tom Clyde posited “We’re all wondering where Michael had dinner the night before the game where he shot the lights out despite being so sick he could barely stand.”
Would someone really poison Michael Jordan, though?
There were other shenanigans going on while the Bulls were in town. After the Bulls arrived and spent time visiting the town and signing autographs on June 5, they went to bed looking for solid rest before game three on June 6. They startled awake at 5:59 a.m. from a band blasting music just outside their hotel (Marriott’s Summit Watch Resort). The band, hired by a Salt Lake City radio station, was apparently playing Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible” loud enough to hear even several blocks away.
The police came and dispersed the band. But by 6:30 a.m. a radio truck was driving around making loud sounds. Officers sent the truck on its way out of town too. It appears the prank was effective. The Jazz beat the Bulls that night – and the next night too, to tie up the series.
Game five was going to be a critical game for the Jazz. Win and they are up on the Bulls heading back to Chicago. Lose and the Bulls have two games to clinch the Finals at home. Jordan, exhausted, collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms at the end of game five – but if someone did poison the pizza, their dubious deed backfired: The Bulls won with an impressive 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block from MJ in 44 minutes (out of a possible 48). As Tom Clyde noted in his column in looking toward game six, “If Michael Jordan is still blowing chunks, we’re in trouble.”
Next week, we continue this story with a look at the possible culprits for Jordan’s illness.
Fields, Dave. “Field Notes.” Park Record, June 7, 1997.
Fields, Dave. “The Chicago Bulls play Park City.” Park Record, June 7, 1997.
“Police Blotter.” Park Record, June 7, 1997.
Clyde, Tom. “And so it goes…: Da Bulls.” Park Record, June 14, 1997.
“Jordan’s Trainer, Tim Grover, Destroys ‘The Flu Game’ Myth.” CBS DC. April 18, 2013.
The Last Dance, episode 9. ESPN Films, May 17, 2020.