By Barry Janoff
June 13, 2016: Was it the flu? And what type of flu? And did he contaminate his teammates, fans, his coach and others? Or maybe it wasn't the flu but the anchovies on his pizza.
On June 11, 1997, Michael Jordan played in what has since become known as his legendary 'Flu Game," scoring 38 points in Game 5 of the NBA Finals to lead the Chicago Bulls to a 90-88 win over the Utah Jazz
Jordan played 44 of 48 minutes with severe "flu-like symptoms" — subsequent stories attributed his illness to food poisoning from a bad slice of pizza he ate in his hotel room — with stats that also included seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and a blocked shot.
As a result of his output, Chicago took a 3-2 lead and then went on to win the NBA title in six games two days later at home.
Jordan himself often later recalled, "(Playing that game) was probably the most difficult thing I've ever done."
To celebrate the 19th anniversary of the event, Nike's Jordan Brand has unveiled a humorous campaign that includes a series of spots with comedian/actor J.B. Smoove (Jerry Brooks) which offer alternative reasons to why Jordan appeared to be so sick.
And in a bit of in-your-face humor, Jordan Brand also opened a pop-up store in Salt Lake City, home of the Jazz, which sold Jordan shoes and ran a continuous loop of the Flu Game.
The effort also includes Internet and social media.
Under the umbrella theme, Greatness Overcomes, (#GreatnessOvercomes), J.B. Smoove-led spots offer a variety of wild theories on how Jordan got the flu. They were filmed in Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, OR., in rooms filled with past and current Air Jordan shoes and other memorabilia.
In "Tongue Theory," Smoove, standing in front of a showcase filled with classic Nike Jordan's, offers, "You know how many viruses are floating around in the sky? Jordan could have gotten sick by holding this tongue out every time he drove to that basket. Viruses just jump on your tongue and start dancing.
"Viruses dance all the time," Smoove continues. "Every time Jordan goes to the hole, he puts that tongue out. A virus jumps on his tongue and starts doing the running man. Once you put your tongue out your mouth, viruses will jump on your tongue."
In "Coulda Been The Shoes," Smoove blames Jordan's own footwear. "It's very possible that his Jordan shoes got him sick. People say it all the time: 'Those shoes are sick. How'd you play last night, Jordan? Oh, I had a sick game last night.' He might gotten sick off his own damn shoes!"
"Pizza Theory" switches gears to focus on the room service order in his Salt Lake City hotel room that Jordan had the night before the game. "When you intentionally put anchovies on your pizza among the regular ingredients, you are trying to get me sick. Michael Jordan don't even like anchovies. He likes pepperoni. Cheese, Sausage. Extra cheese. Was this pizza the Grassy Knoll of this night?"
Jordan's long-time teammate, Scottie Pippen, makes a guest appearance in "Ice Cold."
"Scottie Pippen. My man!" Smoove says to Pippen. "The Flu Game. That night you had a triple-double," he mis-remembers: "18-11-10." Pippen's actual stats were 17 points, 10 rebounds, five assists. But Smoove continues, "Pat yourself on the back. Remember that game. Michael Jordan. 38 points, five assists, three steals. Sick as hell. But what kind of flu was it? To this day it's a mystery."
Pippen asks, "What's your point?" Smoove offers, "It's a conspiracy." Pippen replies, "Not buying it. Greatness overcomes anything."
J.B. then re-creates the post-game scene hen Pippen literally had to help carry Jordan off the court. "Jordan is sick. You helped Jordan up. He is sweatin' all over you. All over your shirt. And you say to yourself, 'Man, don't you breathe on me. Don't get me sick.'"
"What If?" sees Smoove contemplating an outbreak caused by Jordan's mysterious illness.
"The referees could have got sic. The audience could have got sick. The coach could have got sick. The mascot. The little girl who sang the National Anthem could have got sick: 'And the rocket's red glare . . . Bleeeehh.'
"But you ran up and down that court. Making shots. Getting rebounds. You got a game to win. It's the NBA Finals. Greatness overcomes."