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For a player whose career was filled with iconic moments of brilliance that astonished the entire basketball world time after time, it is hard to pinpoint a single point in Jordan’s career that defines him best. However, one of the many contenders is his performance in game five of the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz.
The game, played on June 11, 1997, came to be known as the “Flu Game because Jordan is reported to have played through the effects of flu and came up with 38 points to help the Bulls win.
Buildup to the Flu Game
The Bulls had finished the 1996/97 season with a league best record of 69-13. In the first round of the playoffs, they beat the Washington Bullets and then eliminated the Atlanta Hawks in the second Round. They won the Eastern Conference after beating the Miami Heat in five games.
The Utah Jazz, who were also going through a period of renaissance during the 1990s, had dispatched the Los Angeles Clippers, the Lakers and the Houston Rockets en route to the NBA Finals. Duo John Stockton and Karl Malone were the Jazz’s equivalent of the Bulls’ Scottie Pippen and Jordan.
The Bulls won game one and two in their backyard 84-82 but the Jazz rallied to even the series by winning game three and four in Salt Lake City. During a fiercely drawn out and low scoring game four, Jordan was restricted to a series low game scoring of 11 points. With game five scheduled for Utah, word broke that Jordan was suffering from flu and would not be at 100% fitness for the game.
This seemed to be the boost that Utah needed to go ahead in the series for the first time. Many theories about what was actually wrong with Jordan flew around including food poisoning, a late night gambling escapade and tactical mind games from the Bulls.
How the Flu Game Unfolded
Despite Bulls trainers insisting that Jordan would not play the game, he slept off the ill effects and woke up in time for the 7 pm tipoff at the Delta Center. Stepping onto the court, Jordan was visibly weak and as a result, the Bulls trailed the Jazz by 16 points in the second quarter. Slowly, Jordan came into his own and started sinking shot after shot for a total of 17 in the second quarter.
The Jazz’s lead had diminished to just four points as the two teams went to the half 53-49. Jordan started the third quarter on the bench and the Jazz started to pull away with the quarter ending 77-69 in their favor. In the fourth quarter, Jordan scored 15 points.
With 46.4 seconds on the clock, Chicago were 85-84 down when Jordan was fouled. He sank the first free throw and missed the second, but the rebound was recovered by Chicago’s Toni Kukon who passed to Jordan. Jordan passed to Pippen and two defenders rushed to double-team Pippen, leaving Jordan open. Pippen passed the ball back to Jordan, who made a 3 point shot to take the Bulls into an 88-85 lead with 25 seconds remaining. Greg Ostertag scored to cut the lead to one point, but Luc Longley restored the three-point lead with a dunk.
The Bulls held on for the victory and when the Bulls regained possession on the inbounds, Jordan slouched over and collapsed into Pippen’s arms. This became one of the most iconic symbols of the Flu Game. Jordan, who played 44 minutes, ended the game with 38 points and 5 assists. Greg Ostertag scored to cut the lead to one point, but Luc Longley restored the three-point lead with a dunk.
The Bulls held on for the victory and when the Bulls regained possession on the inbounds, Jordan slouched over and collapsed into Pippen’s arms. This became one of the most iconic symbols of the Flu Game. Jordan, who played 44 minutes, ended the game with 38 points and 5 assists.
Aftermath of the Flu Game
In game 6, played in Utah, Jordan would score a series high 39 points as the Bulls defeated the Jazz 90-86 to win yet another NBA Title. Jordan was named Finals MVP for a fifth time in his career, although he had lost league MPV to Malone. The Air Jordan XII sneakers that Jordan wore were debuting during the series and Jordan’s performance gave greater marketing power. The pair that Jordan wore for the Flu Game sold at auction for $104,765.