The story behind the 1999 Spurs Championship StarCraft photo

NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson was one of the greatest centers to ever play the game, as recognized by the NBA’s 50th and 75th Anniversary teams. That didn’t stop his teammates from poking fun at his video game habit.

Malik Rose, Robinson’s teammate and 1999 NBA championship-winning San Antonio Spurs teammate, remembers being criticized for turning on his laptop so often after games or practices. “Dave got it too!” Rose said. “But secretly, everyone wanted to get into it.”

After the Spurs title that year, someone took a picture from the team’s plane. It’s still unclear who took the photo, but it clearly shows Robinson, Rose, Hall of Famer Tim Duncan and Sean Elliot all playing the “StarCraft” video game on their laptops. The Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy sits in the corner of the frame.

The photo has gone viral several times on platforms like Reddit and Twitter, usually with a post expressing the surprise of an NBA championship team celebrating their title by engaging in a real-time strategy game as if it was a high school AV club. In contrast, the previous year’s champions, the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls, appeared on Sports Illustrated’s mid-season cover, play cards on the floor in the aisle of an airplane. The cards were also preferred by championship teams such as the 1973 New York Knicks, who played on their way home after winning it all. Other photos of NBA team planes typically show players listening to music, eating, reading and relaxing. This Spurs photo features a LAN party, a way for 90s gamers to interconnect computers and play against each other, one-on-one.

“I used to have fun on the plane, the dice games, the card games, so when I came to Spurs it was like I was in church,” said said Mario Elie, a three-time NBA champion who signed with the Spurs before the strike-shortened 1999 season and said he brought “a bit of badness” to the team. “Very nice guys, shaking everyone’s hand, and I had to kind of change that a bit.”

Rose said he played video games before joining the team in 1997, mentioning series like Madden, Zelda and Diablo. But he said it was Sean Elliott, whom he called the “Yoda” of the band, who turned him and Tim Duncan — then both in their early years — on “StarCraft” specifically.

“We saw him play with Dave Robinson, so the younger players, like we do when we see older players doing something, we started doing it,” Rose said of himself and Duncan.

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“StarCraft” is a sci-fi real-time strategy game created by Blizzard Entertainment. The game, originally released in 1998, has since spawned a popular sequel and several expansion packs and add-ons. Its competitive esports scene is highlighted by The International, a global championship that regularly offers a prize pool of tens of millions.

The much-loved title, which focuses on three distinct races battling in a distant galaxy, features a story campaign as well as several multiplayer modes, such as capture the flag, deathmatch and melee, where players attempt to destroy each other’s bases.

When asked if he felt team leaders playing “StarCraft,” versus Jordan and Pippen playing high-stakes maps, reflected a different team culture, Rose said it was. possible. Still, he emphasized, “Whatever Jordan did, it produced results, six championships.”

That’s not to say “StarCraft” didn’t have its upsides. Playing with these three teammates (the group was dubbed the “IBM Gang” by the rest of the team) resulted in better performance on the court, according to Rose.

“Every time you spend so much time together, all together, it makes you more in love with each other and brings you closer,” he said.

“StarCraft” sessions have never been more intense, or supposedly rich, than a game of Bulls cards. (Rose said the game took place during field shooters during practice.) Still, the IBM gang took video games seriously, especially as they began to become more competitive. Rose said players would run to the team bus after games to grab their laptops so they could jump right in.

“The games got so good that we started playing at the hotel. We spent all the time off the court playing the game,” Rose said.

“[Robinson] was in his computers,” Gaze recalled. ” I didn’t understand. It wasn’t my thing. … But I was a bit envious,” he said.

Elie also said he didn’t gamble, but remembered how often the IBM gang did.

“I just remember those guys playing every game on the road,” Elie said. “Those four guys were playing all the time…it was to release the tension. It was very competitive. »

Elie drew a comparison between this Spurs team and the New England Patriots, in terms of professionalism and leadership. “It was kind of a nerdy type team,” he said. “I consider [Spurs Head Coach Gregg] Popovitch likes [Patriots Head Coach Bill] Belichick, just nicer. And you never had to worry about where the guys on that team were at night.

Look okay. “This team wasn’t doing anything to compromise focus,” he said.

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After the Spurs beat the New York Knicks in Game 5 of the NBA Finals in New York, Rose remembers celebrating and partying with her teammates. But on the flight back to San Antonio on the team plane, with little else to do, they pulled out their laptops and started playing.

One memory that stuck with Rose after the game when the picture was taken was an offhand comment from Robinson, who Rose said was one of the smartest people he had ever met.

“David could literally build an airplane, but we used to joke about how he forgot things,” Rose said. “We were leaving caucus and he was asking, ‘What game are we running.’ ”

On the plane, Rose said that “out of nowhere” Robinson had said he might get a bonus for winning the title – but he wasn’t sure.

“He said if he got the bonus, he’d buy us Rolexes. And he did, the very next week,” Rose said.

Rose was traded to the Knicks in 2005, but said he continued to play ‘StarCraft’ with his Spurs teammates, although they eventually moved to ‘World of Warcraft’ and then ‘League of Legends’. playing together online “for hours and hours”.

Although Robinson and Duncan led Spurs down the field and finished their careers as two of the best big men in the game, as far as ‘StarCraft’ goes, they weren’t even the team’s MVPs.

“If I have to be honest, Sean was the best then,” he said.

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