Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game” is still considered one of the most fabled performances of Jordan’s legendary career, and it may not have been possible at all had it not been for one attentive ballboy who supplied His Airness with applesauce throughout the game and got to keep Jordan’s shoes as a reward.
The Salt Lake Tribune has the story of Preston Truman, a former Delta Center ballboy who is now looking to sell Jordan’s shoes from Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals. But more impressive than the fact that Truman is looking to cash in on the sneakers is the story of how he got them in the first place.
It actually started back in November 1996, when Jordan’s Bulls were in town visiting the Utah Jazz. Before the game, which Utah won, Jordan asked Bulls trainer Chip Schaefer for his pre-game snack of graham crackers and applesauce. When Schaefer said he didn’t have any applesauce, Jordan made a declaration: “There will be no autographs for ballboys after the game if I don’t get my applesauce.”
After a mad dash through the arena, Truman finally procured an industrial-sized can of applesauce and a spoon for Jordan, and thus, a bond was formed.
Fast forward to the ‘97 Finals, and Jordan and the Bulls were back in town for Games 3, 4 and 5 after winning Games 1 and 2 in Chicago. Truman had been assigned to the visitors locker room, and this time, he made sure no scavenger hunt would be required — he had applesauce cups and graham crackers waiting in Jordan’s locker when he arrived at the arena.
When Game 5 rolled around, with the series tied 2-2, Jordan famously came down with food poisioning, but that didn’t stop Truman from asking before the game if he could have Jordan’s shoes afterward. Then throughout Jordan’s 38-point, seven-rebound, five-assist performance, Truman took care of the league’s best player, supplying him with a spoon for three cups of applesauce at halftime, and after Jordan’s game-sealing 3-pointer, Truman’s wish came true.
“After the game, the shoes were underneath Jordan’s dressing table while Truman went about his work,” Matthew Piper writes in the Salt Lake Tribune. “The ball boy panicked when Charles Barkley stopped by to visit — Bryon Russell had asked for MJ’s shoes earlier in the season, and Gary Payton drew flak in the 1996 Finals for doing the same. But Chuck left without them.
“Jordan showered and dressed, and when the equipment manager reached down to pick the shoes up and pack them away, MJ told him to hold it. ‘Those are his,’ he said, pointing to Truman. He later signed both shoes while one of his bodyguards snapped photos. He then rubbed the top of Truman’s head and left.”
Over the years, Truman would turn down offers to sell the shoes — including an $11,000 offer when he was just 19 years old — but now he’s finally deciding to part way with the prized piece of memorabilia, at an auction that opens on Nov. 18.
It’s unknown how much Truman’s cut of the sale will be or whether it will be fair compensation for selling such an iconic piece of basketball memorabilia, but even without the shoes, Truman will always have an awesome story to tell.