CES was a different show 17 years ago. In 2001, the Best of Show award went to the DataPlay disc, a postage-stamp-size memory card that held up to 500MB of data. If you can’t remember it, don’t worry — the company went out of business shortly thereafter as SD became the de facto standard. Microsoft was still the biggest tech company on the planet at that point — Apple wouldn’t release the original iPod for another nine months — and each CES began with a keynote hosted by Bill Gates.
The first 80 minutes of its 2001 keynote consisted of clunky tech that now, in some form or another, lives in Google Home or your smartphone. But then came the reveal of the original Xbox. It arrived with none of the fanfare we expect from modern tech presentations, but, unlike the Pocket PC voice-to-text demo that preceded it, the Xbox debut changed the company’s future.
For once, Microsoft was an underdog, going head-to-head against Sony, Nintendo and Sega for control of the living room. To help sell its vision, the company enlisted a veteran game developer with a penchant for flashy footwear and, of course, a pro wrestler. This is the story of that presentation, from the people who were there.