The story behind the 1999 Spurs championship StarCraft photo

Susan R. Jones

Basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson was one of the greatest centers to play the video game, as acknowledged by the NBA’s 50th and 75th anniversary teams. That did not end his teammates from creating pleasurable of his movie recreation behavior.

Malik Rose, Robinson’s teammate and fellow gamer on the NBA championship-winning 1998-99 San Antonio Spurs, remembered obtaining ribbed for firing up his laptop computer so typically following games or procedures.

“Dave obtained it, too!” Rose explained. “But secretly, all people else desired to get into it.”

Pursuing the Spurs’ title that year, someone snapped a image from the staff aircraft. It stays unclear who took the image, but it evidently demonstrates Robinson, Rose, Hall of Famer Tim Duncan and Sean Elliot taking part in the online video game “StarCraft” on their laptops. The Larry O’Brien championship trophy sits in the corner of the frame.

The photo has long gone viral various times on platforms these as Reddit and Twitter, ordinarily with a post expressing shock at an NBA championship team celebrating its title by nerding out on a true-time technique sport as if it was a large faculty AV club. By contrast, the earlier season’s champions, the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls, appeared on the protect of Athletics Illustrated midseason, taking part in cards on the ground in the aisle of a plane. Cards have been also favored by championship groups this kind of as the 1973 New York Knicks, who performed on the way residence soon after profitable it all. Other pics from NBA group planes normally show gamers listening to new music, feeding on, examining and normally enjoyable. This shot of the Spurs features a LAN occasion, a way for gamers in the ’90s to interconnect computers and play head-to-head.

“I’m made use of to enjoyable on the airplane, dice game titles, cards game titles, so when I bought to the Spurs it was like I was in church,” said Mario Elie, a a few-time NBA winner who signed with the Spurs right before the strike-shortened 1999 season and explained he introduced “a small nastiness” to the group. “Very nice men, shaking fingers with everyone, and I kind of experienced to adjust that a very little.”

Rose explained he played video video games just before joining the group in 1997, mentioning collection these kinds of as Madden, The Legend of Zelda and Diablo. But he mentioned it was Elliott, whom he identified as the “Yoda” of the group, who turned him and Duncan — both equally rookies — on to “StarCraft” particularly.

“We observed him taking part in it with Dave Robinson, so young gamers, like we do when we see more mature gamers carrying out anything, we started off performing it,” Rose, who is now head of basketball operations at the NBA G League, explained about himself and Duncan.

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“StarCraft” is a science fiction, real-time method sport built by Blizzard Amusement. The game, originally launched in 1998, has since spawned a well-liked sequel and numerous enlargement packs and increase-ons. The really rated title, which centers on a few distinct races battling in a distant galaxy, features a tale campaign as nicely as various multiplayer modes, this kind of as seize the flag, deathmatch and melee, in which players attempt to damage a single another’s bases.

Asked no matter whether he felt that the Spurs’ leaders participating in “StarCraft,” as compared with Bulls stars Jordan and Scottie Pippen participating in superior-stakes playing cards, reflected a various workforce culture, Rose stated it could. Nonetheless, he pointed out: “Whatever Jordan did, it manufactured final results — 6 championships.”

That is not to say “StarCraft” didn’t have its positive aspects. Actively playing with all those 3 teammates (the group was dubbed the “IBM Gang” by the relaxation of the workforce) translated into superior efficiency on the court, according to Rose.

“Anytime you invested that substantially time jointly, all together, it helps make you far more fond of just one one more and produced you closer,” he explained.

The “StarCraft” periods never received as intense, or as allegedly prosperous, as a Bulls card sport. Still, the IBM Gang took video online games critically, specifically as they commenced to get more competitive. Rose mentioned the players would run again to the group bus soon after game titles to seize their laptops so they could start correct back into it.

“The game titles received so very good we started out playing at the resort. We put in any time not on the courtroom taking part in the video game,” Rose claimed.

“[Robinson] was into his computer systems,” mentioned Andrew Gaze, a further Spurs participant. “I did not have an understanding of it. That wasn’t my go. . . . But I was sort of envious.”

Elie also claimed he did not participate in but remembered how typically the IBM Gang did.

“I just keep in mind all those fellas actively playing on every road game,” Elie reported. “Them 4 guys played all the time … It was to release some tension. It was really aggressive.”

Elie drew a comparison among that Spurs team and the New England Patriots in conditions of professionalism and leadership. “It was sort of a nerdy type of crew,” he reported. “I think about [Spurs Coach Gregg] Popovich like [Patriots Coach Bill] Belichick, just nicer. And you never had to fear where by guys on that group ended up at evening.”

Gaze agreed. “That team wasn’t undertaking issues to jeopardize concentrate,” he mentioned.

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Right after the Spurs beat the Knicks in Match 5 of the NBA Finals in New York, Rose recalled celebrating and partying with his teammates. But on the airplane back to San Antonio, with not a great deal else to do, they broke out their laptops and started out actively playing.

A single memory that stuck with Rose from all over the instant the image was taken was an offhand remark from Robinson, whom Rose claimed was a person of the smartest people today he at any time fulfilled.

“David could basically develop an plane, but we utilized to joke about how he’d fail to remember points,” Rose explained. “We’d leave the huddle, and he’d inquire, ‘What perform are we running?’ ”

On the plane, Rose claimed that “out of nowhere” Robinson explained he could be obtaining a reward for successful the title — but he wasn’t absolutely sure.

“He said that if he did get the bonus, he would invest in us Rolexes. And he did, the incredibly next 7 days,” Rose stated.

Rose was traded to the Knicks in 2005 but stated he continued enjoying “StarCraft” with his Spurs teammates, however they eventually moved to “World of Warcraft” and then “League of Legends,” taking part in collectively on the web “for hours and hours.”

Although Robinson and Duncan led the Spurs on the court and ended their careers as two of the very best huge adult men in the sport, when it arrived to “StarCraft,” they were being not even team MVPs.

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


An previously variation of this story misidentified The Global as a “StarCraft” esports function. The International is a “Dota 2” match.

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