Game 5, known as “The Flu Game”, was one of Michael Jordan’s most memorable. On Tuesday, Jordan woke up nauseated and sweating profusely. He hardly had the strength to sit up in bed and was diagnosed with a stomach virus or food poisoning. The Bulls’ trainers told Jordan that there was no way he could play the next day. The Jazz had just won Games 3 & 4 to tie the series at 2 wins apiece, and there was doubt as to whether Chicago could win without Jordan. Game 5s have often been the turning point in the NBA Finals best-of-7 format, since the winner would be just one victory away from an NBA title. Despite his ailments, Jordan rose from bed at 3 p.m., in time for the 6 o’clock tip-off at the Delta Center.
Jordan was visibly weak and pale as he stepped on the court for Game 5. At first, he displayed little energy, and John Stockton, along with reigning MVP Karl Malone, quickly led the Jazz to a 16-point lead (36-20) in the second quarter. But Jordan slowly began to make shots despite lacking his usual health. He scored 17 points in the quarter as the Bulls ended the quarter with a large run. While Jordan was fatigued in the third and sitting on the bench, Utah was able to reclaim the lead and stretched the lead to 8 (77-69) points early. Jordan began to score points at a rapid rate in the 4th quarter, scoring 15 fourth quarter points. With 46.5 seconds left and Chicago down 85-84, he was able to shoot free throws. He made the first to tie the game, but missed the second. Toni Kukoc tapped the offensive rebound to Jordan, who dribbled back to allow the offense to set up. He passed the ball to Pippen, who was quickly double-teamed. Pippen then passed the ball back to a now-unguarded Jordan, who made a 3-point field goal to give the Bulls an 88-85 lead with 25 seconds remaining in the game.
Chicago was able to maintain the lead despite a late Utah push and held on for a narrow victory when John Stockton missed the first of two free throws in front of the stunned crowd. Malone was the high scorer for the Jazz with 19 points but shot poorly during the game, air-balling an off-balance shot on the possession prior to Jordan’s big 3-pointer. Malone finished the second half 1-for-6 from the field. Jordan played 44 minutes despite his weak body. He was visibly tired and sluggish throughout the game. He finished the game with 38 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 1 block. With only a few seconds remaining and the game’s result safely in Chicago’s favor, Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms creating the most replayed and lasting image of The Flu Game.