The Utah Pizza Man is upset.
The one who said he delivered the infamous pie that supposedly poisoned Michael Jordan before Game 5 of the NBA Finals in 1997.
He said what has been presented by Tim Grover, Jordan’s personal trainer, inside and out of ESPN’s 10-episode MJ Glorification Showcase, is in serious error.
The implied part about Jordan being poisoned by five suspicious, possibly nefarious delivery guys who showed up at the Bulls’ hotel in Park City the night before Game 5, when His Airness ordered a pizza at 10:30 from a local Pizza Hut, and subsequently fell ill. Grover said he “had a bad feeling” about the pizza and voiced his concerns to Jordan, who basically ignored him, eating the entire pie himself.
A few hours later and into the morning, MJ repeatedly puked his guts out. Jordan bravely — heroically, even — battled his way through the next day, skipping shoot-around but answering the bell at game time, scoring 38 points in leading the Bulls to a 90-88 victory, taking a 3-2 lead heading back to Chicago.
That game has been dubbed the “Flu Game,” but, according to Grover, it should more aptly be referred to as the “Food Poison Game.”
“One-hundred percent, it was food poisoning, 100 percent,” Grover said during a recent podcast. “… Nobody ate the pizza but him. Nobody. And there were no signs of flu, anything, being sick before that. … I’ve not known any flu that can hit you that fast, but I know how quickly food poisoning can hit you.”
He said: “Five guys delivering one pizza, and they are all trying to look in.”
Au Contraire said Craig Fite, the aforementioned Pizza Man who not only delivered the pie with just one other person, he also made the pizza himself. In an interview during my radio show on The Zone with Jake Scott on Monday evening, Fite said at that time, he was the assistant manager of the Pizza Hut in Park City and a self-described Jordan fan. He was even betting on the Bulls to win. When the order came in, he did not know it was placed by or for Jordan, he said, but he figured it was headed to someone connected with the Bulls, because “everyone in Park City knew the team was staying at that hotel” near the bottom of Main Street.
Fite made the pie — a thin-crust large with extra pepperoni — and took it to the specified room on the second floor of the hotel, being checked by security before entering the building.
Some of his facts were a bit blurry, but this is part of his account:
“There were two of us. There was a police car there, you had to identify yourself. We were dressed in our uniforms. It’s clear where we’re coming from. The guy said, go ahead. The pizza was around me the whole time. … As soon as they opened the door, we got punched in the face with cigar smoke. One of the players, I want to say it was one of the players, and forgive me guys because this was quite a few years ago, but I remember one of the players saying, ‘Oh, pizza. Who’s that for?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know, it’s room so and so.’ And he said, ‘Oh, it’s for Mike. Leave it alone.’ …
“We go over and I knock on the door, and this guy who’s been saying all this crap lately, he answered the door, barely opens the door, I identified the company I was with and I said, ‘Here’s the pizza delivery,’ and he shuts the door. He opens the door and hands me $20. He opened the door a little more and I could hear some commotion going on in there. He made a gesture, like, ‘Keep the change.’ I said, ‘Can I at least say hi to Mike?’ Why not? It’s my one shot, right? The door opens a little more and Mike’s in the room, sitting at a chair, playing cards or whatever, and he raises his head and says, ‘Thanks, man.’ And the guy looks at me and shut the door. … That’s the basic story of what happened.”
There was no conspiracy, Fite said, no purposeful poisoning of the pizza. Fite said, in fact, that he is a huge Jordan fan and named his son after the Bulls star. He also is convinced there was no accidental food poisoning, either. He said there were no other complaints from the pies made and delivered that night, no other reports of food poisoning from any affected customers, no nothing.
Just Jordan getting sick at 3 a.m. and hanging on for dear life, determined not to let his team down in Game 5.
He did not.
Fite has little doubt that Jordan was sick, if that’s the way the story goes. He said he has no confirmation, one way or the other, that MJ had been in Las Vegas, as some had speculated, partying and thereafter hungover. He has no knowledge of any of that.
What he does know is the ingredients he used in making Jordan’s pizza that night were no different than the basic ingredients he used in every other pizza. And that, as mentioned, nobody else reported getting sick.
“That pizza was made well,” he said. “I followed all the rules. … I’m 100-percent certain it wasn’t food poisoning, or it sure as heck wasn’t that pizza.”
Fite now works as a supervisor at a Dick’s Sporting Goods store in Midvale. And his position on the matter appears a whole lot more believable than Grover’s, a stretch-the-imagination version that lacks enough elasticity to be reasonably plausible. It seems ripped out of a fictional espionage novel, like some kind of James Bond-meets-an-evil-pizza-assassin account.
The latter makes for a better story, though. And that was the point of “The Last Dance,” all along, right? The hero, against all odds, against every malevolent force and foe, triumphs in the end.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.