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Former Chicago Bulls physician suggests new theory for Michael Jordan ‘Flu Game’ in 1997 NBA Finals

Matt Johnson
Michael Jordan
Anne Ryan-USA TODAY via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The Michael Jordan flu game is considered one of the best individual performances in the history of the NBA Finals. With the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz locked in a 2-2 split during the 1997 NBA Finals, Jordan came through with a performance few around him thought was possible before tip-off.

Hours before the game in Salt Lake City, Utah, Jordan called his personal trainer and disclosed being in intense discomfort. As retold by trainer Tim Grover back in 2013, Jordan called Grover hours after ordering room service and told him he was ill, later being found in his hotel room curled up in the fetal position.

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Barely able to walk under his own power, Jordan managed to take the court in Game 5 against the Jazz. He delivered a masterpiece, scoring 38 points and shooting 48.1% from the field in a 90-88 victory on the road in Utah.

  • Michael Jordan stats in the Flu Game: 38 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals

Chicago went on to win the NBA Finals thanks to Jordan. However, many have debated ever since whether Jordan had the flu, suffered from food poisoning, or was hungover. Now, someone on the inside is providing insight.

In an interview with David J. Chao of Sports Injury Central, former Chicago Bulls head physician Dr. John Hefferson threw cold water on the Jordan ‘Flu Game’. Instead, he suggests the team thought it might have been altitude sickness.

“I don’t know that he had food poisoning, we thought he had altitude sickness.”

Former Chicago Bears team physician Dr. Jogn Hefferon on the Michael Jordan Flu Game

Symptoms of altitude sickness include headache, insomnia, reduced coordination and vomiting. Some of it lines up with the things Jordan experienced that night, but other rumored issues like food poisoning also seem to match Jordan’s symptoms before Game 5.

  • Michael Jordan career stats: 32,292, 6,672 rebounds, 5,633 assists, 2,514 steals

Whether it was food poisoning, altitude sickness or some other ailment, Jordan’s performance will still go down as one of the greatest ever.