One of the men involved in one of the most iconic moments of Michael Jordan’s career has revealed himself after 23 years. In June 1997, the Chicago Bulls traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah to take on the Utah Jazz in Game 5 of the NBA Finals with the series in the balance.
In the hours before the game, rumors that a severe bout of flu would rule Jordan out of the game swirled around right until tip when the Bulls star, despite looking feverish and distinctly worse for wear, joined his teammates on the court.
From then on the game accrued legendary status, with a clearly debilitated Jordan finishing with 38 points, seven rebounds and five assists as the Bulls defeated the Jazz 90-88 to take a crucial 3-2 lead. As Jordan walked off the court in the closing stages, he almost collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms, an image that has become one of the most iconic in Jordan’s career.
On Sunday, during Episode 9 of The Last Dance, ESPN’s 10-part documentary that chronicled his final season with the Bulls, Jordan set the record straight about the “Flu Game”, explaining he had suffered from food poisoning because of a dodgy pizza, rather than a bout of flu.
When Jordan felt hungry at 10:30 p.m. while in his hotel room with trainer Tim Glover and personal assistant George Koehler the trio ordered a pizza, which Jordan ate all by himself.
“I ate the pizza,” Jordan said in the documentary. “All by myself. Nobody else ate the pizza. I wake up about 2:30 throwing up left and right.”
“It really wasn’t the flu game. It was food poisoning.”
In a bizarre twist of irony, the man who claims to have made the pizza was a Bulls fan and had elected to prepare it himself to prevent it from being tampered with by any Jazz fans working in the store.
“The guy [the colleague who received the call] motioned me over because he knew I was the only Bulls fan in the store,” Craig Fite told The Big Show podcast on Tuesday night.
“He comes over and he goes ‘I think it’s the Bulls and it might be one of the players.’ […] I remember saying ‘I’m doing it, I will make the pizza because I don’t want anyone of you doing anything to it.’
Fite, who had been hired “three of four weeks” earlier as an assistant manager, admitted having no idea whether the pizza would be for one of the Bulls player of a member of staff but took extra care when making it, before delivering it himself.
In The Last Dance, Grover revealed being concerned when the pizzaa thin and crispy with extra pepperoni, according to Fitearrived.
“Five guys delivering one pizza,” Jordan’s trainer explained. “They’re all trying to look in. I take the pizza. I pay them. I put this pizza down. I say, ‘I’ve got a bad feeling about this pizza.'”
Fite, however, firmly refuted the claim, dismissing it as a “crap” story.
“There were two of us and I didn’t even have that many people working at time,” he explained.
“I remember there being a police car parked there and you had to identify yourself. Both of us were in uniform and it’s clear where were coming from.
“We walk in, security guy looks at us and says ‘Great, go on ahead’. The pizza has never left me and has been around me the whole time.”
The following day, Fite was shocked to hear Jordan could miss the game with food poisoning-like symptomswhile a bout of flu was the official line, rumors Jordan had been food poisoned quickly intensifiedbut maintains it’s unlikely MJ got sick because of the pizza.
“It’s tough to get food poisoning off a pizza unless of course you obviously add something to it, but that didn’t happen because it sure as heck didn’t leave my hands,” he continued.
“That pizza was made well, I followed all the rules, and heck, I was so busy trying to impress to become the store manager there that I followed all the rules.”
What gave Jordan food poisoning may never be definitively establishedbut a pizza may have contributed to one of the most iconic games in NBA history.