Michael Jordan's play in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals was nothing short of miraculous.
His performance has become so engrained in pop culture, it is now universally recognized by three simple words—"The Flu Game."
Two nights before the day of Game 5, Jordan was shaken from his slumber by a ferocious sickness. He was sweating bullets, shaking uncontrollably and his stomach was in knots.
"I was scared; I didn't know what was happening to me," Jordan later said.
The Bulls' medical staff rushed to his room and came to the conclusion that he was either suffering from a stomach virus or food poisoning. Whatever it was, they determined he wasn't going to be able to play in Game 5.
Jordan was confined to his bed for the next two days, rising only to expel fluids. Obviously, he missed the Bulls' team practices both the day before and the day of Game 5.
But a mere three hours before tip-off, Jordan somehow dragged himself out of bed and slowly made his way to the Delta Center. When he zombie-walked his way into the locker room, his teammates were shocked at his condition.
"[I didn't think] he could even put on his uniform," Scottie Pippen later told ESPN. "I'd never seen him like that. He looked bad—I mean really bad."
But Jordan refused to sit out, insisting that coach Phil Jackson insert him into the starting lineup. And for the first quarter of the game, that looked like a big mistake. Jordan played like a guy who had a 103-degree fever—he was dazed, weak and slow. The Jazz sprinted out to a 29-16 advantage. But His Airness turned it on in the second quarter, pouring in 17 points despite still looking like death.
At halftime, Jordan wrapped himself in cold towels, consumed as many fluids as possible and told Jackson to use him in spurts because his tank was almost empty. An up-and-down second half for Jordan—who at times seemed on the verge of collapse—culminated in a go-ahead 3-pointer with 25 seconds left. The Bulls held on for the victory, and the legend of "The Flu Game" was born.