On This Date in Sports June 11, 1997: Flu Game

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

With the NBA Finals tied at two games apiece, Michael Jordan can barely stand in the hours before Game 5, suffering the effects of the stomach flu. Even with his weakened state, Jordan scores 38 points as the Chicago Bulls rally from a 16-point deficit to beat the Utah Jazz 90-88 at the Delta Center. The Bulls would go on to win the series in six games.

Coming off a record 72-10 season and a fourth championship in six years, the Chicago Bulls, coached by Phil Jackson, were poised for an encore after posting a 69-13 record. In the playoffs, the road to the finals was relatively easy for the Bulls, as they swept the Washington Bullets and beat the Atlanta Hawks in five games to reach the Eastern Conference Finals, where they beat the Miami Heat in five.

Out west, the Utah Jazz, coached by Jerry Sloan, reigned supreme, finally making the NBA Finals after a 64-18 record in the regular season. The Jazz swept the Los Angeles Clippers in three straight games in the playoffs. In the second round, they beat the Los Angeles Lakers in five games, spoiling the playoff debut for Kobe Bryant and the first playoff appearance for Shaquille O’Neal since signing with the Lakers. In the Western Conference Finals, the Jazz beat the Houston Rockets in six games, with John Stockton clinching the series with a buzzer-beater in Game 6.

Right from the start, it was clear the Utah Jazz were going to be a formidable opponent for the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals, as Game 1 at the United Center was a battle to the end, with Chicago escaping with an 84-82 win on a buzzer-beater by Michael Jordan who had a game-high 31 points. The Bulls had an easier time in Game 2, winning 97-85. However, as the series shifted to Salt Lake City, the Jazz began to take over, winning Game 3 by a score of 104-93 as Karl Malone had a game-high 37 points with ten rebounds. The Jazz would even the series at two games apiece with a 78-73 win as the crowd noise at the Delta Center caused Bulls coach Phil Jackson to complain. 

Heading into Game 5, the Bulls were dealt bad news as Michael Jordan was severely under the weather, dealing with either a stomach virus or food poisoning. Jordan was barely even to sit in his bed, as he slept until 5 pm and did not get to the arena until just before game time. Michael Jordan was slow to start as he barely had any energy as Utah built a 16-point lead in the second quarter. Scottie Pippen played well, keeping Chicago in the game. The Jazz remained in control of the game as Jordan rested in the third quarter. With the series' balance at stake, Michael Jordan came out strong in the fourth quarter scoring 15 points as Chicago outscored Utah 23-16. Late in the game, Jordan was at the foul line with the Bulls down 85-84; he hit the first to tie the game but missed the second shot. The ball was rebounded by Toni Kukoc, who passed it to Scottie Pippen, who found Michael Jordan, who hit a three-pointer to give the Bulls an 88-85 lead with 25 seconds left. The Bulls would not look back, winning the game 90-88 as Jordan collapsed into the arms of Scottie Pippen while leaving the court. 

The Bulls would close out their fifth championship in seven years with a 90-86 win in Game 6 at the United Center. Michael Jordan scored 39 points in the clincher and won his fourth NBA Finals MVP as Steve Kerr’s three-pointer with 17 seconds left was the game-winner.