The Truth Behind Michael Jordan's "Flu Game," As Revealed by 'The Last Dance'

Documentary 'The Last Dance' finally provides much-needed context around Michael Jordan's famous "flu game," videos of which still make the rounds on YouTube.

One of the most talked-about revelations from the final episodes of The Last Dance centers around the so-called "flu game." Of course, we've talking about Game 5 of the 1997 NBA finals, during which Michael Jordan suffered flu-like symptoms and yet somehow managed to score a whopping 38 points. The game has since passed into fan legend as one of the best examples of why Jordan is the best player that ever lived—visibly in pain and exhausted, he still managed to help the Bulls eke out a win. But in an interview for the series, Jordan's trainer Tim Grover revealed: It wasn't the flu, it was actually very likely food poisoning.

This has totally changed how fans view the incident (I guess "the flu game" sounds better than "the food poisoning game"), so what do we know about what actually happened?

Takeout pizza was to blame for Michael Jordan's flu-like symptoms.

According to Grover, Jordan was hungry the night before the game, and the hotel didn't have room service. Grover scoured the Park City, UT area for an open pizza place, and Jordan ate the whole pie himself. Hours later, he was curled up in the fetal position on the floor. (Sounds about right, if my experiences with food poisoning are reliable.)

"I’ve not known any flu that can hit you that fast, but I know how quickly food poisoning can hit you," Grover said on The Steam Room podcast. He remembers telling Jordan, "If you’re going to play, you gotta keep going...The worst thing that could happen is that you come out and rest for a long period of time."

"Just get me standing. I will do the rest," Jordan apparently replied.

Throughout the game, Jordan looked utterly exhausted, sweat pouring down his face, and by the time the game was over he could barely raise his arms.

michael jordan of the chicago bulls during the bulls 90 88 win over the utah jazz in game 5 of the nba finals at the delta center in salt lake city, utah

(Image credit: Brian Bahr)

The food-poisoning update changes how people see the game.

People are behaving like this is a huge revelation—the inference in some of the recent coverage is that the food poisoning might have been intentional. Five people from the shop showed up to the delivery, having deduced that the pizza was probably for Jordan. And no one else had a bite of the pizza that made him so sick. Coincidence? No idea, but it's guaranteed to be debated among fans for a long time.

It is worth noting, though, that there was always speculation that it might have been food-related all along. Even in this recap, there's a reference to the fact that the hotel didn't have room service:

And it certainly doesn't change his epic performance.


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Katherine J. Igoe

Katherine’s a Boston-based contributor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle—from “Clueless” to Everlane to news about Lizzo. She’s been a freelancer for 11 years and has had roles with Cosmopolitan and Bustle, with bylines in Parents, Seventeen, and elsewhere. It’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.