Longtime trainer Tim Grover says it was really more of a "Food Poisoning Game," but regardless of what spurred it, the outing we've come to know as "The Flu Game" — Michael Jordan fighting off a 103-degree fever on June 11, 1997, to pour in 38 points, grab seven rebounds, dish five assists and hit a game-sealing 3-pointer in his 44th minute of play to beat the Utah Jazz in Game 5 of the NBA finals — still stands as one of the truly legendary and memorable performances in the career of the greatest basketball player of all-time. (The fifth-best, by our reckoning.) It's been studied, dissected, discussed and immortalized in video-game form — over the past 16 years, fans of the Chicago Bulls and the NBA have had a million different ways to relive M.J.'s iconic performance, which put the Bulls one win away from the fifth NBA title of his career.
And soon, thanks to Westhampton, N.Y.-based auction house Grey Flannel Auctions, they'll have another — by buying the shoes he wore en route to those fever-fueled 38 points at auction. (We should've known that it had to be the shoes.)
After Game 5, as shown in the photo above, Jordan signed the red-and-black size 13 Nikes he'd worn and handed them over to a Jazz ball boy before leaving the arena. (Industrious grinding, Jazz ball boy.) Said ball boy-turned-grown man kept them under lock and key for years, but as Grey Flannel director of operations Michael Russek told Ball Don't Lie, he recently had a change of heart.
"We were approached by the ball boy because of our affiliation with the Basketball Hall of Fame," Russek told BDL. "He never looked to sell them before now. I think he recently realized that he was getting a little older and was more curious than anything to see if people still cared about the story."
Russek and Grey Flannel are betting that prospective bidders will care quite a bit, which is why they pursued the shoes for consignment and inclusion in their Dec. 11 holiday auction catalog. Bidding will open on Nov. 18, if you're a deep-pocketed Jordan lover who'd like to lock this in on your calendar; the autographed shoes will be "accompanied by a letter from the ball boy as well as an incredible photo of Jordan signing these and handing them over post game," according to Russek.
"He wants someone else to have them who can display them better, as they've sat in a safety deposit box for the last 15-plus years," Russek said. "Mainly, he wants Jordan fans to hear the story and know they are out there and how they were obtained."
One would suspect that he also probably, y'know, wanted to see just how much he could get for them. After all, Grey Flannel has run up some pretty impressive numbers on past items, with a number (including Boston Celtics great Dave Cowens' 1972-73 NBA Most Valuable Player Award, Julius Erving's 1976 game-worn ABA All-Star jersey and the official scorer's sheet from Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game) fetching more than six figures. The high-water mark, though, remains the game-used road jersey allegedly used by Babe Ruth to hit his famed "called shot" home run in 1932; despite some concerns over both the veracity of the story and the authenticity of the jersey, Grey Flannel sold it for a whopping $1,056,630 at auction.
Russek doesn't figure the Flu Game kicks will net anything near that number, but he does see the bidding getting competitive. Other items up for bidding in the December auction include game-used jerseys worn by the likes of LeBron James, George Gervin, Miami Dolphins running back Larry Csonka, New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, Detroit Tigers outfielder Rocky Colavito and Pittsburgh Penguins center Mario Lemieux, a baseball autographed by members of the world champion 1928 Yankees, Elgin Baylor's 1974 NBA All-Star Game trophy and the boxing gloves Sugar Ray Leonard wore in his 1984 win over Kevin Howard. Russek figures the Flu Game shoes will wind up at or near the top of that heap.
"We do not publish estimates, but I expect these to be one of the highest priced items in the sale," Russek said.
Hope you've been saving up, Jordan fanboys.
If you, like this famed former Jazz ball boy, have something you'd like considered for the holiday auction, Grey Flannel's consignment deadline is Oct. 7; the auctioneer's site has more information on getting involved.
Hat-tip to Sports Collectors Daily.