As ESPN’s 10-hour docuseries The Last Dance has shown us, the legendary career of Michael Jordan has countless iconic moments. Perhaps none is more emblematic of Jordan’s drive and commitment to winning than what’s come to be known as “The Flu Game.”
But in the ninth episode of The Last Dance, Jordan and members of his inner circle issued an addendum to the long-standing belief that Jordan came down with the flu ahead of Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz. Instead, they insist he had a bout of food poisoning.
According to accounts from Jordan, personal trainer Tim Grover and best friend George Koehler, the group was hanging out in Jordan’s hotel room the night before Game 5 when they ordered a pizza from a restaurant in Park City, just outside of Salt Lake City. When the pizza arrived, Grover answered the door to find five people there to deliver the pizza. Thinking this was odd, the group decided not to eat the pizza, except for one member: Jordan.
Hours later, Jordan was on the ground in pain, clearly dealing with severe symptoms. He made it to the arena and suited up to play, hoping to at least serve, as he put it, as a “decoy.”
What followed was likely the best performance a decoy has ever put on, in any sport. Jordan played 44 minutes and scored a game-high 38 points. He also led the Bulls with five assists (tied with Scottie Pippen) and three steals, and hit the go-ahead three-pointer with under 30 seconds left in the game.
The win put the Bulls up in the series, 3-2. Chicago won Game 6 at home, 90-86, to take home the franchise’s fifth championship in seven years. Jordan scored 39 points in Game 6, his high for the series while still feeling the effects of his illness.
Given the results, perhaps Jordan should have eaten suspect delivery food more often.