The 1997 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz was tied up 2-2.
But prior to Game 5 in Salt Lake City, Michael Jordan was felled by flu-like symptoms that seriously compromised his physical well-being. Most mortal men would have remained at the team hotel under the care of medical professionals.
But Jordan was no mere mortal.
Looking nothing like the most dominant player in the game who was building a resume as perhaps the greatest of all-time, Jordan looked like the last place he needed to be on earth during that first quarter was a basketball court. Looking drained, ill and like a shell of his normal self, he didn’t score a single point in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, he proceeded to erupt for 17 points. After halftime, he once again looked as if he made the wrong decision by choosing to play, going scoreless once again.
But for those who’d watched Jordan since his days at North Carolina, it was well-known that he did his damage when it counted most. And with Utah holding a 77-69 lead in the fourth quarter, even the flu could not hold the ultimate competitor back. He scored seven points during a 10-run that allowed Chicago to get back in command.
His 3-pointer in the final half minute gave Chicago a lead it did not lose, followed by Scottie Pippen having to physically help him off the floor.
Full story of the legendary Flu Game in 1997 Finals: Jordan said , “Probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I almost played myself into passing out just to win a basketball game.Not just any game, though — a Finals game. “
“Probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” Jordan said afterward. “I almost played myself into passing out just to win a basketball game.”
“This was a heroic effort, one to add to the collection of efforts that make up his legend,” Bulls coach Phil Jackson said afterward.
Scottie Pippen was off that game, shooting 5-of-17 from the field for 17 points, but he played his normal brand of all-around ball with 10 rebounds and five assists. But in order for Chicago to grab the commanding 3-2 series lead and head back to Chicago with the hopes of closing out John Stockton, Karl Malone and their Jazz squad, Jordan dealt with his flu-like symptoms like Tom Brady deals with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs, leading the Bulls to the 90-88 victory.
Jordan hit 13 of his 27 shots. He was 10-of-12 from the free throw line. He tallied 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals, and a block, and at every timeout, he looked like he was on the verge of dying on the Bulls bench.
His Game 5 scoring output tied his series high, as he’d also dropped 38 in Chicago’s Game 2 win. In Game 6, he once again proved why he was the baddest man on the planet as he scored 39 points en route to his fifth NBA championship.
If Jordan sits out the flu game, Utah wins Game 5, and maybe wins the series. But Michael Jordan was seemingly willing to die to make sure his legacy didn’t include any maybe’s. And that’s why this game will forever go down as the one that separates him from any others.