Fifteen years ago this evening*, Michael Jordan stood in Utah tied 2-2 in a pivotal Game 5 against Karl Malone, Karl Malone’s MVP award which should’ve gone to Mike, John Stockton and the very real possibility of being one loss away from his first Finals defeat. Then, between June 8 and June 11, Mike became sick; so ill his status for Game 5 was in jeopardy with “flu-like symptoms.” What happened next – 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and one kick ass Gatorade commercial – has been documented as a valiant performance only helping to cement Jordan’s GOAT status.
Then there’s the game and how it affect a random kid from Virginia. Gather around the campfire for three short stories. One of family, one of a stupid decision and one wondering if Mike had too much sauce the night before.
1. My grandma and I always watched Bulls games together. From stories she’s since told me in years after MJ’s Chicago years, she first became a fan because of me, but then later because she began to appreciate the game of basketball. Well, that and she loved Dennis Rodman. We watched Game 5 of the ’97 Finals together and the entire day she was telling me, “I don’t know, Justin. This doesn’t look good. He may not make it through the entire game.” There were even points during the game when Mike’s face was shown with the look he was damn near about to pass out. All she could say was, “Poor baby. Just keep trying.” Now that I look back on it, she was a nervous wreck. Hell, we both were. When the game was over, all she could say was, “Get that baby some soup and some Ginger Ale.” I love that woman.
2. A young Tins – of about 11 years of age – was so inspired by Michael Jordan’s fight against the flu, the Jazz’s crowd and the naysayers who thought the stage was too big for even His Airness attempted to recreate the moment months later. How, you ask? Well, I purposely got myself sick. Sleeping on top of the covers with the fan on full blast with the A.C. pumping did the trick and before I knew it I was sneezing, congested and coughing in no time. I was excited like Christmas morning. To make a long story much, much shorter, my performance was nothing compared to Jordan’s.
Basketball Reference didn’t have the box score , but if I remember correctly, my stat line looked something like 0 points on 0-9 shooting, one assist, five turnovers and four fouls. It was one of the lowest points of my life. How Mike did what he did, I’ll never know. I could barely breathe running down the court. Believe it or not, however, this ranks #2 on my “Be Like Mike” achievements list. Once, I purposely moved in the barber’s chair forcing him to cut all of my hair off. My mom was pissed and so was I. I looked more like a lightbulb than anything like the greatest player of all time.
3. Time affords the greatest hindsight, which is why as the years have passed the rumors of Mike having “flu-like symptoms” seem further and further far-fetched. Remember in May 1993 when a report of Mike missing curfew the night before a playoff game versus the Knicks surfaced? Well, if you don’t, the story goes M.J. traveled to Atlantic City and had a grand old time doing only the Big Man above knows what. Well, so offended by the report, he baptized the Knicks in what’s still remembered as one of the greatest “sick my duck” games in the modern era.
I say all that to say this. Losing two straight to the Jazz, maybe (just maybe) Mike hopped on a private flight to Las Vegas, got some gambling in, got Justin Blackmon wasted and flew back. Seeing as how Mike’s gambling issues were well documented*, flu-like symptoms was a safe cover. I’ll give you the fever, but vomiting? Unable to keep food down? Dehydrated? That sounds like the result of too good of a night if you ask me. Look, Mike could have very well got sick as history claims he did, but where everyone remembers “Flu Game,” I remember “Hangover Game.” And to keep it 100, isn’t playing with Hennessy and Irish Car Bombs still seeping through your pores more impressive, anyway?
* – Since we’re talking anniversaries and Michael Jordan, can you believe it’s been 20 years since the “Jordan shrug“? Damn shame what the “Kanye shrug” did to it though.
** – Keep thinking that wasn’t a huge issue in his first retirement if you want. You probably believe Jerry Sandusky is going to beat his trial and become the next head football coach at Penn State, too.