WRITTEN BY: John Peterson
The story goes that for Game 5 of the 1997 Finals against the Utah Jazz, Michael Jordan played through a severe bout of the flu to lead the Chicago Bulls to victory. An addendum to this story came from the 2020 docuseries, The Last Dance, which claimed that the moniker, “Flu Game,” is inaccurate because Jordan was actually suffering from food poisoning after eating bad hotel pizza.
With his new single, “Hangover Game,” MJ Lenderman sheds light on a lesser-known take regarding the legendary game. As the pre-chorus builds, the Wednesday guitarist sings, “It wasn’t a pizza that poisoned him in Utah,” citing the hotel bill as evidence, which racked up to three thousand dollars for just five people. As you may have guessed by now, Lenderman’s theory is that Jordan wasn’t sick from a virus or food, but that he simply drank too much the night before.
Lenderman employs a timeless literary tactic, reworking a pre-established story to suit new means. The song’s content is so specific—there are remarkably few sports references outside of hip hop—it intrigues as well as perplexes. As the storyline continues to meander, you may start to wonder why Lenderman is taking such an interest in Michael Jordan. In a great turn of poetry, however, MJ (Lenderman) directly compares himself to MJ (Jordan) in the track’s closing lines, repeating, “I love drinking, too.” With this simple phrase, the history of “Hangover Game” is reframed, and another listen yields a host of potential interpretations.
Due to the dynamic nature of the song, two conflicting stories emerge most prominently. In the context of the dark mood created by the chorus, you feel a sense of frustration coming from Lenderman. The dissonance created by the chromatic chord progression gives a biting edge to his words. The catharsis of his final sentence is twisted by the graver implications of a drinking habit. Whether our pursuits are athletic or musical, we all want to be like Mike. But as Lenderman tries on his fake Jordan’s, he’s ultimately disappointed. Maybe there’s no easy way to become the GOAT. Maybe idolizing him isn’t enough.
With the playful, blues-inspired rock and roll of the verses, however, the song reads as a rapturous ode to both Michael Jordan and alcohol. Electric guitars chug along and raise a glass to the humanity shared between us all. There’s a lesson to be learned from Jordan’s “Flu Game;” the best of us never let a rough morning get in the way of a great night.
—And even when you can hardly stand, you can still drop 38 points against Utah because jazz sucks—