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#NBArank Best Finals Games: Michael Jordan's flu game

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Pippen: I've never seen Jordan that sick (1:31)

Check out a crucial finals game 5 in 1997 when the Bulls faced off against the Utah Jazz and Michael Jordan had to play through the flu. (1:31)

Members of our #NBArank panel are recounting the greatest NBA Finals games. First we asked five NBA writers to share their favorites. Then, Kevin Pelton started ranking his top 25 Finals games of all time, unveiling five per day.


The Flu Game: 1997 NBA Finals, Game 5, Bulls vs. Jazz

Marc Stein: No list of Greatest Finals Anything ‎is complete without a Michael Jordan entry. Or six.

‎And Jordan's "Flu Game," for me, is unquestionably right up there on my Basketball Digest-inspired "Games I'll Absolutely, Positively Never Forget" list.

The shove on Bryon Russell and subsequent swish that clinched ring No. 6 for Jordan and his Bulls one year later in the 1998 championship round is more commonly cited to be MJ's signature Finals moment, but not on this scorecard.

Loyal readers of ESPN.com's NBA page over the years know by now that I'm a nostalgic sap who wouldn't be able to resist giving Jordan extra credit for his flu-ridden heroics on June 11, 1997.

Not when 1997 happened to mark the first NBA Finals that I ever had the privilege to cover in person. In April 1997, I moved to the Dallas Morning News as a young reporter. While the Mavericks couldn't even dream of tasting a playoff series in those dark days, there I was in Salt Lake City, taking in Jordan's flu-ridden heroics from close range.

Everyone remembers MJ's huge second quarter, his late dagger 3-ball in the final minute after missing a rare crunch-time free throw, and most of all, his weary embrace with Scottie Pippen, who seemingly had to hold Jordan up to keep him from falling in the iconic snapshot of that series. You can see those incredible plays in the video above.

Those magical MJ moments are why it will always be on the list of Greatest Finals Games for me. Add to that the privilege of sitting alongside the legendary veteran scribes of the NBA and the thrill of just being there, trying to live up to the occasion in print, and this game becomes my personal favorite.

The excitement was only enhanced by that ever-raucous 19,911 at the Delta Center, which was then known as the league's loudest building, and where Utah hadn't lost since that February and came so close to becoming the first team in the history of the league's 2-3-2 Finals format to sweep the middle three games.

Only Jordan wouldn't let them.

There was so much greatness on that Jazz team -- Karl Malone, John Stockton and Jerry Sloan -- ‎but No. 23 went storybook right at the crucial time, while The Mailman, who had just won his first MVP award, managed one lonely point in the fourth quarter.

In the end, as he so often did, Michael Jeffrey Jordan sent all of Utah home sick.


If you want to get involved in the discussion or just follow along, #NBArank is the Twitter hashtag to use. You also can follow along with @ESPNNBA as we count down the greatest Finals games ever.