After the Tottenham title that year, someone took a picture from the team’s plane. It is still unclear who took the photo, but it clearly shows Robinson, Rose and Hall of Famer Tim Duncan and Sean Elliot playing the video game “StarCraft” on their laptops. The Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy is located in the corner of the frame.
The image has gone viral on platforms like Reddit and Twitter, usually with a post expressing amazement at an NBA championship team celebrating their title by delving into a real-time strategy game as if it were a high school AV club. By contrast, the previous year’s champion, the Chicago Bulls led by Michael Jordan, appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated midseason, play cards On the ground in the aisle of the plane. The cards were also favored by championship teams like the 1973 New York Knicks, who played way home after winning everything. Other images from NBA team planes generally show players listening to music, eating, reading, and relaxing. This Spurs shot features a LAN party, a way for gamers in the ’90s to connect computers and play against each other, head-on.
Mario Illi, the three-time NBA champion who signed with Tottenham before the strike cut short the 1999 season, said he brought “a bit of naivety” to the team. “Very nice guys, shaking hands with everyone, and I kind of had to change that up a bit.”
Rose said he played video games before joining the team in 1997, citing series like Madden, Zelda, and Diablo. But he said Elliot, whom he referred to as “Yoda” from the group, is the one who turned him and Duncan — both rookies back then — into “StarCraft” specifically.
“We saw him play Dave Robinson, so the younger players, like we do when we see older players doing something, we started doing that,” Rose, who is now the head of NBA G League basketball operations, said of himself. Duncan.
“StarCraft” is a science fiction, real-time strategy game made by Blizzard Entertainment. The game was originally released in 1998, and since then it has spawned a popular sequel and many expansion packs and addons. The highly-rated title, which focuses on three distinct races battling in a galaxy far away, features a story campaign as well as several multiplayer modes, such as capture the flag, death match, and clash, where players try to destroy each other’s bases.
Asked if he felt the Spurs captains playing “StarCraft”, compared to the stars of Bulls Jordan and Scottie Pippen who play high-stakes cards, reflecting a different team culture, Rose said it was possible. However, he noted, “Whatever Jordan did, he had results, six championships.”
This does not mean that “StarCraft” did not have its benefits. Playing with these three teammates (the group was nicknamed “IBM Gang” by the rest of the team) translated into better performances on the court, according to Rose.
“Anytime you spend all that time together, together, it makes you two more fond of each other and brings you closer,” he said.
The “StarCraft” sessions have never been so intense, or as rich as it is claimed, as Bulls’ blackjack. However, IBM Gang took video games very seriously, especially as they began to become more competitive. Rose said the players will return to the team bus after matches to grab their laptops so they can go straight back to it.
“The games got so good that we started playing in the hotel. We spent any time outside the field playing the game,” Rose said.
“[Robinson] Andrew Geese, another Tottenham player, said. I did not understand that. This was not my go-to. He said… But I was kind of envious.
Eli also said he didn’t play, but he remembered how many times the IBM Gang had done.
“I just remember these guys playing every road game,” Eli said. “The four of them played all the time… the goal was to release some tension. It was very competitive.”
Eli compared that Tottenham team to the New England Patriots, in terms of professionalism and leadership. “It was kind of a geek-obsessed team,” he said. “I consider [Spurs Coach Gregg] Popovich like [Patriots Coach Bill] Belichick, just the cutest. And you never have to worry about where the players on this team are at night.”
Gaze agreed. “This team wasn’t doing things to jeopardize focus,” he said.
After Tottenham beat the Knicks in Game Five of the NBA Finals in New York, Rose remembered the celebration and partying with his teammates. But on the plane to San Antonio, with not much to do, they broke their laptops and started playing.
One of the memories he had with Rose from the moment the photo was taken was an impromptu comment from Robinson, who Rose said was one of the smartest people he ever met.
“David could literally build a plane, but we used to joke about how he forgot about things,” Rose said. “We would leave the crowd and ask, ‘What play are we having. “”
On board, Rose said it was “out of nowhere” Robinson said he might receive a reward for winning the title – but he wasn’t sure.
“He said if he got the bonus, he’d buy us Rolex watches. He did, just the next week,” Rose said.
Rose traded with the Knicks in 2005, but said he continued to play “StarCraft” with his Spurs teammates, despite eventually moving on to “World of Warcraft” and then “League of Legends”, playing together online for “hours and hours” .
Although Robinson and Duncan led Tottenham on the field and ended their careers as two of the game’s top players, when it came to ‘StarCraft’, they weren’t even the best players on the team.
“If I have to be honest, Sean was the best then,” he said.
An earlier version of this story misidentified The International as a “StarCraft” esports event. International is the “Dota 2” tournament.