Basketball is a team sport, but few single-player performances stand out more than Michael Jordan’s Flu Game. While MJ’s 38 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals were far from shabby, it was his will to win and play through debilitating flu (or rather food poisoning) symptoms that made this game the stuff of legends. Instantly iconic, the performance still holds weight 23 years later.
Fighting off the sweats, the shakes, and the spins from what has since been suspected as food poisoning, Jordan worked up the desire to dress for Game 5 of the NBA Finals in Utah. He would ultimately play and play a lot. Stat line aside, Jordan was on the hardwood for 44 minutes of the incredibly important swing game. Barely able to sit up before the game and fighting to stand up after, MJ got in the zone and handed the Jazz an L by hitting a late-game triple – shifting the momentum of the series and giving the Bulls a 3-2 edge on Utah en route to a Game 6 closeout.
While the game-clinching three-pointer may have been the defining play of the night, the most vivid image remains Scottie Pippen assisting his beloved teammate off the court. The night may have been MJ’s, but ultimately it was the Bulls who supported their star while he inspired them to win.
What Michael Jordan did in the Flu Game will forever be remembered by fans of sports, basketball and the Bulls. What he wore on his feet will forever be remembered by sneakerheads. The Air Jordan 12 Black/Red all but owns the “Flu Game” nickname, forever tied to his gutsy performance.
This inline colorway originally launched in 1997, getting regular wear from MJ right before the 1997 Playoffs, remaining in rotation throughout the duration of the postseason. Compared to the average Jordan drop, it got relatively little wear, splitting time with the “Playoff” 12s on the road to Money’s 5th title. The wear it got was big on importance, though, lacing MJ in a string of great games, with none more important than the Flu Game.
In recent years, the original pair worn in the Flu Game sold for $104,765 at Grey Flannel Auctions. This incredibly rare piece of sneaker and basketball history was given to former Utah Jazz ball boy Preston Truman by Michael Jordan himself as a gift after the game. The shoes served as a thank you gesture to Preston for hooking Mike up with his favorite pregame snack, crackers and applesauce, prior to the Game 5 win. Outside of the Air Jordan 3s worn by MJ in the ’88 Dunk Contest or the actual “Last Shot” 14s, it’s hard to fathom a single pair of sneakers more iconic than this.
Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game” lives on in ESPN segments, in Gatorade commercials, and more or less serves as the measuring stick for a player’s will or desire to compete. On the sneaker side of things, the famed pair of kicks continues to reign as a favorite among collectors and hoopers alike. Since launching in 1997, the shoe has returned in retro form three times.
The first retro release of the Air Jordan 12 Black/Red came in 2003. Like the original, paneled black leather laced the upper, contrasted by a robust red mudguard. The shoe was a success at retail and is rarely seen on-foot or for sale roughly a decade later.
In 2009, the Air Jordan 12 “Flu Game” took the epic performance literally, but not seriously, adding date and point tagging to the heel beside a sick face emoji. While the themed detailing was met with mixed reaction, the swapping of suede for leather was less liked. Over time, this installment has grown in popularity, but like most updated designs, the OG styling is still favored.
Finally, in 2016 the “Flu Game” 12s returned as a remastered retro with leather styling intact. The shoe was a commercial smash for Jordan Brand, selling out across the country.
Spanning 23 years of relevance and four retail releases, the Flu Game and Black/Red Air Jordan 12s will forever live in hoop history and fashion lore.