Friday, 1 July 2011
THE FLU GAME
1997 NBA FINALS-GAME 5: Chicago Bulls @ Utah Jazz
Time to get ill with a man so sick.
By Tim David Harvey
To remember the world's greatest let's take a trip. No not to Chicago, let's hop in the DeLorean and go back to 1997. GREAT SCOTT, MARTY! We are going back to a time when Bon Jovi where cool and Bill Clinton ruled; the 90’s. Now strap yourself in as we may just be witnessing one of the most impressive performances in NBA history by the greatest of all time, Michael Jordan. You know there's nothing like a bit of nostalgia.
Two years ago prior to '97 (after a brief foray in the sticks) the G.O.A.T was back in the herd. Back in the Chi so confident, armed with the '45', but not to play games with the league, but to take aims at it. The Jay Hova of basketball returned in November wearing red and white. The Windy City no longer felt so cold. Chicago must have thought Christmas had come early.
Now Jordan’s presence stampeded the Bulls to the NBA Finals to make sweet music with Malone and Stockton's Utah Jazz. A year later MJ would send Utah to bed with 'the last shot' but this year it was all about the flu shots. Michael was sick...to the Jazz's death.
Here tips off an epic clash for the decade. This is Utah’s first trip in franchise history to the NBA Finals and after coming back from being 0-2 down we are all square, after the coolest square of them all; John Stockton breaking the triangle by stealing the ball and maybe the series off Michael Jordan in Game 4. Still the greatest ever has the greatest sidekick to his right by the name of Scottie, riding in the sidecar, ready to motor on until there is nothing left. The Zen master is in control looking like a biology teacher, ready to school the opposition on the professions of good basketball. Now as for Dennis Rodman, just like NBA Live '96, it's anybodies guess what his hair color is. Meanwhile for Utah the decibel, Delta Centre, home crowd sixth man is pumped right behind its two stars Karl Malone and John Stockton, the greatest pick and roll duo of all time. Byron Russell is eyeing MJ, not even beginning to realize how bad he's going to get it. It's on, but yet something feels wrong.
Let Marv Albert tell it (who really shouldn’t stand so close to Bill Walton), "He (Jordan) is suffering from flu-like symptoms". Yes man Marv has a list of 'No's' about Mike. No sleep, no food, no shoot around, no practice, but do the Bulls have no hope?
Jordan looks physically shaken, as he slowly drives to the basket losing the ball, but then he gets it back himself fading away from the corner. Mike's not out of this one. Still for the G.O.A.T. it’s up and down. A few plays later then Jordan is the one left looking a bit shaky from his crossover. Looking worse for wear when he throws up a shot too high off the glass, money is left feeling a different kind of green. Michael's under the weather and the forecast for 'The Windy City' Bulls doesn't look good. It's 18-8 with 3 to go in the first to the sound of the Jazz. Timeout.
To close out the 1st Jordan was riding the pine instead of tweaking the twine. Sweating like it was deep in the fourth, aided by some gator. He's letting it all out and show however. Ali's on the ropes, waiting to take his swing. Now in the second, Jordan from half court, drives the lane and dribbles the ball round in such a way it's like he isn't even aware there's a defender trying to keep up with him. Could Jordan be OK? Mike then goes to the line and hits two free throws, but he looks as animated in this position as an early 90's computer game player. A few back and forth’s later and it's Luc Longley who provides some color dunking hard after Jordan’s post and dish. Guess Luc wasn't that bad after all. Now as for Mike, the ill man gets even warmer with a crossover and fade away from deep for his 10th point in the second. He really is sick.
'What a play' is one of Marv Albert's other infamous catchphrases. Now after Jordan steals the ball and runs the floor finding Scottie, Pip misses the rebound only to have it dunked home by MJ. Now did that sequence of offensive events deserve Marv's one liner? YES! Within four the half is Utah's but the game is still Mikes'.
Ahmad Rashad is telling us about how we got the first smile from Michael at halftime. Now are we talking about that infamous, killer smile? It's time for Mike's murder game. Scottie Pippen paces with 13, but right now it's Jordan’s stamina that impresses.
Stockton and Malone are working the pick and roll. 'Stalone' are dominating, rocking the Bulls, but these stags won't heed or roll over. Jordan keeps feeding Longley but its time for Mike to eat too. Then with five minutes to go in the third and nothing in the bank this quarter, money drives, steps, airs and lays up for the tie. Does that whet your appetite?
Brian Williams and Karl Malone are going at it. The refs are showing no love for the Bulls centre. So he gets his own on a thunderous solo, one hander, showing that he belongs, staring down everybody on the floor and at home watching. Tonight Bison Dele lives on. Rest In Peace big man.
A white towel was draped over a slumped MJ to end the 3rd. In this final act everyone knows that Mike's about to throw the towel away, not in. He hits from the corner to cut it to five...nice. Then everyone collapses and stands watching the almost fainting MJ, fade away like it was a practice shot. Then to continue this hot streak, the burnt out and exhausted MJ assists Kukoc for three and then hits his own three after giving the most obvious ball fake in the history of the NBA. Jordan ties the game but shows no emotion- it's almost like he doesn't care- it's more like he's drained. As he staggers back to the bench for some time out, he takes no fluids, no high fives. He and the game are on the line. Back in the action Jordan gives his own trademark dream shake, loosens up Russell and fades away from him. Get used to it Byron, Chicago 79, Utah 77.
Like a prisoner on the phone, behind glass on visiting day, we got five minutes. Jordan’s working Russell, shaking him off before missing. Is he rushing? Jordan’s fighting everything but all the Utah players are feeling the ill effects of MJ like the common cold. Mike's spreading the floor but Utah aren't about to wave any white tissues or flags...yet. The games been deadlocked at 81 for two minutes, with a minute and some change over that to go. Stockton hits what looks like the biggest shot of the series, but then with what seems like ease, Jordan drives into the paint for that signature, fade away floater of his. He looks real uncomfortable now. Is it the game or the flu? This is getting hard for iron Mike, can't shrug this one off. Now with Malone at the line the Delta Centre crowd is chanting MVP, some of the Mailman’s praise is probably now delivered Michael's way.
With two minutes to go Bill Walton sees Jordan’s clapping for the ball, but Walton’s a commentator now and his silky smooth passing son isn't old enough yet. Some tense moments pass. Then with less than a minute the ball finds MJ's hands as he stops and bends over. This isn't because of how he's feeling though, this is tradition. No icer yet, he's fouled so it's time to get this the easy way. Michael's body language has had enough, maybe he's more frustrated that he can't win this game the usual way, but then…
…he quickly gets the rebound off his own miss, resets the play and then with 25 to go reloads with a trey. There's some ice in that trey too. Time to take it to the fridge in Chick's honor. With the last timeout called, Jordan and his 38 points fall into Pippen’s arms as Scottie returns the favor and carries his captain back to the bench. Jill Scott was right, it’s all love. Nothing but heart and iconic images. Minus some garbage free throw time that was all she wrote. Bulls 90, Jazz 88. Now the rest is history as Chicago take game 6, the series and the championship. The story of a hero.
So in retrospect Jordan may not have looked great during this legendary game but hindsight can be a beautiful thing and the ending was more than a good look. Sure in the list of all time classic Mike performances this may not have looked as pretty as his two handed switch layup against the Lakers. This game was more like Talib Kweli, a 'beautiful struggle'. Sure this MJ domination was not as easy as his shrug against Portland but it was still a go hard, Trailblazing effort as Jordan was burning up in more ways than one using his shoulders to carry his team and his burdens.
Overall just like these two performances, or the shot over Craig Ehlo, or 'that' shot the following year, this '97 performance lies right next to these other number 23 moments in the classic NBA history books. Just like all the other bestselling Jordan chapters written, this page turning performance when Mike felt at deaths door lives on. Just like Mike's eternal legacy.
Let's hear what he made of it all...