Michael Jordan once checked out of NBA Finals game due to severe cramps caused by Gatorade mix-up

With the final two episodes of “The Last Dance” airing Sunday night, one event that’s sure to take center stage is Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game.” Most people have some recollection of this event — the image of Scottie Pippen carrying M.J. off the floor, Jordan slumped over on the bench in between the times he was putting on a scoring clinic. He finished with 38 points while battling the flu, although Jordan’s trainer Tim Grover recently said it was food poisoning

Either way, Jordan was sick and he still managed to help the Bulls pull ahead 3-2 in the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz. However, a lesser-known event happened a few days before the infamous “Flu Game” as there was an unfortunate mix-up by a Bulls team assistant involving Gatorade … and GatorLode.

For those who are unfamiliar with GatorLode: In 1988, Gatorade introduced a carbohydrate-based version of its popular sports drink, which would help in the recovery process for athletes after games or practices. It was said to provide an even bigger energy boost than Gatorade, but it was never intended to be used as a substitute. 

So flash forward to Game 4 of the 1997 NBA Finals between the Bulls and Jazz. In a pivotal game, several Bulls players suddenly began to complain of having debilitating cramps. While the players thought they were sipping on the “thirst quenching” Gatorade, it was actually GatorLode they were drinking. 

In Roland Lazenby’s book, Michael Jordan: The Life, he details the costly mistake:

It would later be learned that a Bulls team assistant had mistakenly replaced the players’ Gatorade with GatorLode, a heavy drink used for building carbs. “It was like eating baked potatoes,” explained trainer Chip Schaeffer. Down the stretch, Chicago’s players complained of stomach cramps and Jordan even asked to sit for a time, something he never did at a key moment.

While Jordan was able to fight through the flu for Game 5, he and several teammates were no match for the cramps that came at the cost of drinking GatorLode in Game 4 against the Jazz, losing 78-73. Imagine if the Bulls were given the correct drink during the game; perhaps they wouldn’t have lost. The Bulls were up 73-69 with just two minutes to play, when the Jazz went on a 9-0 run to end the game. If the players were really feeling the effects of drinking GatorLode late in the fourth quarter, that would explain why the Bulls went 0 for 4 from the floor to finish the game, including a costly turnover by M.J. that kick-started Utah’s run.

If Jordan and the Bulls would’ve won Game 4, and M.J. finished off Utah while battling the flu in Game 5, that would only add more mystique to his already legendary career. Unfortunately, not even Jordan could overcome debilitating cramps. More proof he is human, after all.

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