18 years ago today, Michael Jordan put forth one of the most iconic performances in NBA history. In what would forever become known as “The Flu Game,” Jordan battled the flu, or maybe it was food poisoning (or maybe something else?), and delivered 38 points in a 90-88 victory in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals.
Whatever the cause for Jordan’s physical issues that game (his trainer insists it was food poisoning from a bad pizza), he was clearly very weakened throughout, looking exhausted on the court and especially during timeouts. I was just a nine-year-old youngster watching that game, but I’ll vividly remember him on the bench with a towel over his head as he tried to summon the energy to carry on.
And who can forget that incredible shot of Jordan collapsing into Scottie Pippen’s arms as the two walked off the court after the Bulls went up three in the final seconds on a Luc Longley dunk before pulling out the win? That’s one of the most memorable moments in NBA history.
Jordan’s final numbers were superb, as he got his 38 points on 13-of-27 shooting and 10-of-12 from the line. He made two three-pointers, with the second the biggest shot of the game, a bomb from the top of the key in the final minute to break an 85-85 tie. He also added seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block.
When you go back and look at the greatest moments in the career of MJ, this game will always be right up there near the top. It was truly an incredible performance, and now whenever somebody plays well when sick, there are jokes about them having their “Flu Game.”
The Bulls of course went on to win that series in six games, earning the victory at home in Game 6 when Jordan found Steve Kerr for the game-winner and a fifth championship.