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Lore and impact of Michael Jordan's 1997 'Flu Game' still relevant 24 years later

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No one tells Michael Jordan when he can or cannot play in a basketball game.

That's why, on June 11, 1997, despite the warnings of his mother, Deloris Jordan, and team officials, a dramatically sick Jordan took to the court for Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz.

Everyone was aware of MJ's condition that night, except for Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, who revealed in the postgame press conference that he had no knowledge of his most dangerous opponent's physical condition.

Jordan recorded 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals in what has been dubbed the "Flu Game," pulling the Bulls ahead in a series they would go on to win in Game 6.

"That was probably the most difficult thing I've ever done," Jordan said following the game.

Scottie Pippen, right, embraces an exhausted Michael Jordan following the Chicago Bulls' win in the "Flu Game" -- Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz.
Scottie Pippen, right, embraces an exhausted Michael Jordan following the Chicago Bulls' win in the "Flu Game" -- Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz.

The legend surrounding the game has changed in the 24 years since, but continues to shape the way NBA players and fans think of Jordan and the level of dedication a player can have to their sport.

Back in 2013, the narrative around the 1997 Game 5 began changing thanks to two claims: one from former NBA player Jalen Rose and the second from Jordan's former personal trainer Tim Grover. Neither fully explains what happened — or how — on that summer night.

Rose claimed that Jordan was hungover. Grover's claim, that Jordan suffered from food poisoning that night, had already been broached as a possibility in year's past.

But in an interview with TrueHoops TV, Grover added a twist: he thinks Jordan was poisoned deliberately.

"Five guys came to deliver the pizza," Grover said in the interview. "I take the pizza and I tell them: 'I've got a bad feeling about this ... I've just got a bad feeling about this.' "

Grover's story was brought up again in 2020 when Episode 9 of "The Last Dance" aired on ESPN, both by Grover and George Koehler, Jordan's personal assistant and close friend. Though not explicitly stated, there's a clear insinuation of malpractice.

"It's very rare that you get five delivery guys from the pizza place to bring you your pizza," Koehler said.

Jordan agrees it was food poisoning, making "Flu Game" a misnomer. But none of the names thrown out last year on social media — "Food Poinsoning Game," "Food Game," "Pizza Game" — will ever roll off the tongue quite the same.

Not long after the airing of "The Last Dance," former Park City Pizza Hut employee Craig Fite, who claims he delivered MJ's pizza late on the night of June 11, refuted Grover's statement that five men delivered the pizza.

Fite, a Bulls fan working among many Jazz supporters, said the pizza "basically never left" his sight before it reached Jordan's door.

The Jazz have a chance to make an appearance in the NBA Finals this year for the first time since 1998, when they also lost to the Bulls. With the Jazz leading their Western Conference semifinals series 2-0 against the Los Angeles Clippers after a 117-111 win Thursday night, Utah is two wins from clinching a finals spot.

If they do, the world surely will be once again reminded of the 1997 series, the "Flu Game" and maybe an additional slice of evidence to a mystery that may never be truly solved.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Michael Jordan 'Flu Game' between Bulls, Jazz reaches 24th anniversary