Michael Jordan's "Flu Game" sneakers are headed for auction. (GreyFlannelAuctions.com)
Preston Truman, a 35-year-old former Jazz ball boy, is set to auction off the autographed pair of sneakers worn by Bulls guard Michael Jordan during his famous "Flu Game."
GreyFlannelAuctions.com has listed the pair of the black and red Air Jordan 12s, worn during Game 5 of the 1997 Finals, at a starting price of $5,000. Bidding will begin on Nov. 18.
According to the auction site, which sold off a boatload of Kobe Bryant memorabilia earlier this year, Jordan signed both of the Size 13 shoes, and the lot includes Jordan's black game socks, too.
It goes without saying that this one-of-a-kind piece of basketball history has a one-of-a-kind backstory.
Sure enough, the Salt Lake Tribune caught up with Truman, who was still just a teenager when he worked the sidelines at the 1997 Finals between the Bulls and Jazz. Jordan's performance in Game 5 is one of the league's most well-known legends: fighting off flu-like symptoms, that trainer Tim Grover said were caused by food poisoning, Jordan finished with a game-high 38 points, seven rebound, five assists, three steals and a block in 44 minutes to deliver a 90-88 victory. Chicago would go on to close out Utah in Game 6 to take home the fifth title of Jordan's illustrious career.
Fatigued throughout the game, Jordan leaned on Scottie Pippen as the two left the court, and the game has come to symbolize Jordan's insatiable competitive drive and his superhuman mystique. That game stands as one of the most memorable performances in Jordan's career and The Point Forward included the "Flu Game" on our "50 Reasons Why We'll Never Forget Michael Jordan" list earlier this year.
Michael Jordan doubled over during the "Flu Game." (Dick Raphael/Getty Images)
Truman's explanation for how he came across the shoes just adds another layer to the Jordan mythology. From the auction listing:
Early during the ‘96-’97 season in the Bulls visitor locker room, MJ looked up at trainer Chip Schaefer and asked where his graham crackers and applesauce were; Schaeffer was only able to fetch the crackers. Upon hearing this, Jordan turned to our consignor and said, "No autographs for ball boys after the game if I don't get my applesauce." After fulfilling Jordan’s wish, Jordan was grateful for his effort. When the NBA Finals came around, our consignor prepared graham crackers and applesauce to be sitting in Jordan’s locker. Upon arriving, Jordan saw the items and said, "You remembered? That's my guy right there.” After doing Jordan another favor before Game 5, our consignor asked Jordan for his shoes. After the game, as he stood waiting in the locker room, the Bulls equipment manager John Ligmanowski stepped in to get MJ's shoes. "No, leave em," MJ said. "Those are his," pointing at him. Jordan handed our consignor the sneakers with his socks inside and have remained that way until now. Jordan proceeded to sign the shoes and photos were taken during the process.
The Tribune further explored Truman's brushes with Jordan, and the results are predictably amazing.
Before one game, when Jordan was sitting on the trainer’s table, a KSL ad came on the TV. Jazz forward Antoine Carr channeled Rod Tidwell from "Jerry Maguire," imploring Utah celebrities to ask him to "Show me the title!"
MJ looked up.
"He said, ‘I’ll show you the f---ing title,’" Truman says. "It’s moments like that where you sort of pinch yourself."
Truman described Jordan's in-game health struggles too.
He watched Jordan struggle back to the bench during timeouts; he ran Jordan a spoon for three small cups of applesauce at halftime; he heard Jordan tell doctors "F--- no" when they suggested he sit out for a while. Truman’s parents would later tease him because the broadcast showed him — a lifelong Jazz fan — patting MJ on the shoulder after he wrapped him in a towel. When Jordan hit the clinching shot and leaned into Scottie Pippen’s arms, barely able to stand, Truman estimates he was 5 feet away.
"I was like, ‘I think I’m going to see this again and again.’ "
Michael Jordan leans on Scottie Pippen for support during the "Flu Game." (Dick Raphael/Getty Images)
The clincher for this story, of course, is that the cold-blooded, foul-mouthed, physically-ill, uber-competitive Jordan returned the applesauce favor with a favor of his own, passing on the shoes to Truman while taking the time to autograph them. The moment was captured in the photograph below. You can just imagine the restraint it took for Truman not to reach out and grab the kicks just in case MJ somehow changed his mind.
Michael Jordan autographs his "Flu Game" sneaers for Jazz ball boy Preston Truman. (GreyFlannelAuctions.com)
Below, find a gallery of images that show the shoes that are going up for auction. If you've got your sights set on something grander than shoes, you can always bid on Jordan's $20+ million Chicago-area mansion, which will be auctioned off later this month.
Video via YouTube user ForEmily23