SALT LAKE CITY — What a five weeks it’s been. And no, we’re not talking about the coronavirus.

“The Last Dance,” ESPN’s 10-part documentary series on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, came to a close on Sunday night. The series has been must-see TV, drawing a record-setting 6.1 million viewers for its two premiere episodes, and averaging 5.8 million viewers over its first six episodes.

The Bulls’ last two Finals series, in which they faced the Utah Jazz, were covered in Sunday’s final two episodes. It was, as expected, the most-anticipated episodes for Utah audiences. These episodes detailed Jordan’s legendary “flu game” at the Delta Center in 1997 (and whether it was a case of intentional food poisoning), and the numerous close games the Bulls and Jazz played against each other in the ’97 and ’98 Finals (and yes, even that one blowout game in 1998). 

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Looking back: A ‘Flu Game’ for Michael Jordan, a ‘Fluke Game’ for the Utah Jazz

Deseret News reporters Jody Genessy (sports) and Court Mann (entertainment) conclude their post-episode “Last Dance” discussions with some back-and-forth about those Jazz teams — and yes, the infamous “poison pizza” theory.

What do we know about the ‘poison pizza’?

Jody Genessy: I just did a piece about the so-called “Flu Game.” There’s very little info out there about any of it. I just have a hard time buying the story that MJ, his trainer and his friend have put out — that he got food poisoning from pizza. His trainer made it sound like it might’ve been intentional, too. There are theories that he had a hangover (Jalen Rose has hinted at this) or that he had elevation sickness (Steve Kerr said that). I want to dive deep into the pizza scene in Park City back in 1997. Let’s get to the bottom of this. Who were the five dudes that supposedly delivered the pizza? How come they’ve never stepped up and told their story? Court, we should get on this tomorrow. Heck. Let’s do a documentary on it, too. We all have our Sunday nights freed up again, so we’ve gotta do something.

Court Mann: Tonight the New York Times’ Lindsay Zoladz tweeted, “would watch a ten-part documentary about the pizza.” I agree!

I can’t help but laugh at the “poison pizza” theory. All of Jordan’s entourage said they were so suspicious why five dudes showed up to deliver the pizza. Of course five guys showed up — he’s Michael Jordan! If I was working a pizza job back then, and Jordan ordered a pizza from us, there’s a 100% chance I’m joining the delivery guy. And I think they said Jordan ate the entire pizza himself? Seems like a bad idea. I have no doubt there are Jazz fans crazy enough to poison a pizza, but this conspiracy theory just doesn’t add up.

Genessy: I don’t want to point fingers at anyone, but the part about the pizza story that is hard for me to swallow, so to speak, is that there were supposedly four or five guys in his hotel room but he was the only one to eat any pizza. Did you see his friend George? You’re telling me he wouldn’t have downed a few slices?

Did the Jazz really have a chance to beat the Bulls in ’97 or ’98?

Mann: Admittedly, I wasn’t at those Finals games. But I’ve lived in Utah for a long time, and I’ve witnessed how the local narrative around those two Finals has crystallized. From my perspective, here’s what seems obvious: If you can’t beat the Bulls in that 1998 Game 6 — where Pippen’s back is so injured that he can barely walk up the court — then maybe you never really had a chance after all. The Jazz were a great team, no question — but they seemed, like every other team the Bulls faced in the Finals, just in a lower tier than the Bulls. No shame in that. But let’s call a spade a spade. (Maybe I’m swayed by the Jazz fans at these old Delta Center games, who clearly weren’t doing themselves any favors. In the “Last Dance” footage from those Jazz home games, literally every single Jazz fan just looks embarrassingly annoying. Utahns aren’t known for being cool, but they looked spectacularly uncool in 1998.)

Genessy: Ha! There were plenty of dorky looking people in Chicago, too. I blame the era, not Utahns. I’ll put it this way: The Jazz had a better shot (read: better team) than any of the other Western Conference teams the Bulls had to face. They really should have won one of those series. Let’s blame a rookie Bryon Russell for popping off against a then-retired Jordan. I wrote a chapter about him and that story for a book about the Jazz. Crazy stuff. MJ really had a looooooooong memory. But those were such good Jazz teams. It’s almost maddening they didn’t win. 

While Pippen did have back issues — and kudos to him for gutting it out — I’m not going to feel sorry for an opponent for playing through pain. Jeff Hornacek had bone on bone in his knee. Plus he was 57 years old and moonlighting as an accountant at that time in his career. Malone played a bunch of the ’97 series with a hand injury. But he just played because that’s what you do. And if you suit up and step on the court, you’d better give it your all. Pippen still played 25 minutes and hit 4 of 7 shots. It just shows you how amazing Jordan was and how many other weapons Chicago had. Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, Dickey Simpkins (yeah, I was kidding there). There is no shame in losing to Michael Jordan. 

One of my favorite sports memories was being at Game 1 of the ’97 Finals as a spectator. I covered the ’98 Finals as a journalist, so that was different. But in ’97 I was there with my dad when John Stockton played the role of quarterback and connected with Karl Malone for “The Pass” in that fun win. They didn’t win a championship, but I sure enjoyed watching them play. Being there with my dad made it even more special.

Did ‘The Last Dance’ change your thoughts on MJ and those Bulls teams?

Genessy: I’m certainly in a place in my life now where I can appreciate what Jordan and the ’90s Bulls did. I really enjoyed getting to know each of the supporting characters better. I was only 13 when Steve Kerr’s dad was murdered. I had no idea. How heartbreaking. It was interesting to see how Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman had to work their way from little podunk schools to get to the top of their game, how Kukoc was Chicago Enemy No. 1 and he had no clue why. I wish we would have seen even more real behind-the-scenes stuff. 

As much as I thoroughly enjoyed this documentary, it really was a puff piece as John Stockton thought it would be. They were open about Jordan being demanding. He was called a bully. I didn’t like how he treated some people, including Jerry Krause (although I can understand frustrations with the Bulls GM). I didn’t realize how mentally exhausted Jordan was much of the time, too. That makes what he accomplished even more impressive. We really got a deeper perspective on his competitiveness. I think that’s what sets him apart at the GOAT. (P.S. He pushed off.)

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Mann: I was with you until that last parenthetical, Jody!

I thought “The Last Dance” showed, in really insightful fashion, how the key players from that final Bulls team — Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, Kerr, Kukoc — were all kindred spirits. All of those guys experienced such hardship in their personal lives, whether it be incredible poverty or murdered parents or a war-torn homeland, before they ever joined the Bulls. Those teammates didn’t just complement each other from a basketball standpoint, but also from a mentality and life experience standpoint. Each of them had real grit that was hard earned. And their shared hardship, I think, had been the missing piece of our collective understanding of that final Bulls team.

Genessy: OK, Bob Costas might have described it perfectly when he said, “That hand on his backside was the equivalent of a maître d’ showing someone to their table.” I noticed they didn’t mention the Howard Eisley 3-pointer that was wrongly taken away, and then there was that Ron Harper shot that shouldn’t have counted and … OK, OK. Can we at least agree the Bulls should have been cited for illegally smoking cigars in a Utah building?

Mann: Sure. I just want you to have closure.

Related
‘The Last Dance’ episodes 1 and 2: Our reporters discuss their favorite moments
‘The Last Dance’ Episodes 3 and 4: The Jazz show up, Rodman goes ‘wild’
‘The Last Dance’ Episodes 5 and 6: What kind of documentary is this, anyway?
‘The Last Dance’ 7 and 8: A father’s murder, and why Jordan’s baseball made sense
VANCOUVER, BC - JANUARY 27: Scottie Pippen #33 and Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls sit on the bench during the game against the Vancouver Grizzlies at General Motors Place on January 27, 1998 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan sit on the bench during a game against the Vancouver Grizzlies at General Motors Place on January 27, 1998 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. | NBAE via Getty Images
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