Bruce Bowen

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“Someone asked me, ‘What if you’re inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame?’” Bowen, 40, said before the luncheon. “It wouldn’t surpass this. This is something that comes from the organization and people you were around for quite some time.”

-Bruce Bowen, via the San Antonio Express-News

Tonight the San Antonio Spurs honor Bruce Bowen by sending his jersey up to the rafters alongside Hall of Famers David Robinson and George Gervin, as well as fellow “star” role players Avery Johnson and Sean Elliott.

Recognition is never something Bowen sought during his time in San Antonio. After all, awards are generally reserved for those that put the ball in the basket, not those that prevent it.

Even the greatest individual honor bestowed upon defensive players, the Defensive Player of the Year, is often left for those that compile gaudy steals, blocks and rebounds. The idea that great defense could be something as simple as forcing great players into tough shots was a foreign concept during Bowen’s career.

The ceiling for the kind of praise his play could solicit during his career was much lower than the heights his jersey will reach tonight.

“Bruce was a pest. For a defensive player, that’s the best compliment you can give him,” former All-Star Jerry Stackhouse said. “It’s hard to slow down guys in this league, but you knew you had to work to get your points.”

Scorers loathe handing out any credit. Sometimes respect for Bowen was even given through the scope of validation for the scorer. Being defended by Bruce Bowen was a sign that you had arrived. Or, in some cases, that you were departing.

 “When I was with Washington, playing with Michael Jordan, we were talking about how Bruce was going to guard the best player,” former All-Star Jerry Stackhouse said with a laugh. “Mike was like, ‘Bruce is going to guard me.’ And then tip-off came, Bruce came over to me. I gave [Jordan] hell for that one. He didn’t take it well.”

And Stackhouse’s thoughts on being defended by Bowen?

“I didn’t think he could guard me.”

A source of validation before the game, a pest during, and an afterthought afterwards, this is the prism through which much of the NBA viewed Bowen.

Except, of course, in San Antonio, where Popovich and the Spurs have always had their own way of looking at the game.

“Good defenders and people who get steals are not always synonymous,” Popovich once said. “Some steal guys are poor defenders as far as team defense because they’re rogue defenders.”

To keep the sort of defensive intensity that Bowen had, guarding the opponent’s best player, without having an opportunity to answer on the other end, or getting caught in defensive schemes that at times meant getting lit up by opposing scorers, shows a complete lack of ego. And yet, Bowen seemed to be a very prideful player.

“He was relentless with his defense, it was a pleasure competing against him every year,” Tracy McGrady said when hearing news of Bowen’s jersey retirement. “He was a fierce competitor. What I liked best about him is it didn’t matter who it was, whether it was a guy that averaged 30 points or a guy that averaged 10, he gave them his best efforts.”

Bowen was the ultimate team player for the ultimate team-first franchise, and tonight very well could be the last recognition Bowen receives for his career.  But for a man who was all about the Spurs organization, the franchise that took the first long-term chance on him, it fittingly is the only one that matters.

  • Joedelarios

    Well deserved San Antonio’s best perimeter defender ever

  • Bry

    He was a superb defender. And defense is half of the game, last I checked. The Spurs have sorely missed having somebody on the wing that could defend half as good as he did in his day ever since. Here’s hoping Leonard can take a page out of his book….

  • DorieStreet

    A grand night for one of the best in the history of the Spurs. All who will attend the game- cheer long and loud for Bruce Bowen.

  • sam

    he should have won defensive player of the year   for like 5 or 6 years in a row.    but as mentioned above ,   in this leave only flashy and popular guys get recognized in this league.  

    to me steals define sometimes how players gamble on their defense and more often they end up fouling or leaving their guy unguarded for failing.    however, san antonio plays  fundamental def. and don’t like that kind of mentality.   and that is what i appreciate about pop sometimes,  he never cares about statistics or that sort of stuff.   

    honestly it pains me to see him retire,  i wish we have another guy like him on this years team.   we would be winning a championship this summer ,   but oh well  everyone gets older.

  • theghostofjh

    It’s nice to have a “steals guy”, but steals are a different type of defense, and in the grand scheme of things, certainly not the most important aspect. Bowen was a nightmare for the best scorer on the opposing team (particularly wings) because he was not intimidated by them, he was physical, tenacious, smart, and a frickin pain in the ass. Having his jersey raised is a no-brainer. What he did was integral to the formula the Spurs used to win an unprecedented 3 NBA titles in a small-medium market over a period of just 5 years. Thanks for the memories, Bruce (and to think he was un-drafted — not playing in NBA until age 26 — amazing!).

  • Bob

    Going for steals doesn’t necessarily mean you’re playing bad defense or gambling. Jordan and Pippen used to be really good at going for steals. Defense is about communication and if you’re going for steals other defenders need to know and have your back.

  • Len

    Gratz to BB.  One of the best defenders I’ve ever seen.

  • Fra

    It wasn’t a big three from 2003 to 2007 (specially 2005 and 2007) that brought us the titles, it was a big four. Congratulations BB!!

  • grego

    No one guy is going to be Bowen, but the Spurs have more defense at the wings. One thing Spurs had trouble with was when Bowen had to rest or when he was in foul trouble, there was no one else. This time, although not one guy is as good, they have a few guys who can fit and help make trouble for the team, with Kawhi leading the way. 

  • STIJL

    Classic, humorous, and heart warming was the ceremony.  A fitting tribute and well deserved action.  No other has there been on this team as the player Bruce Bowen was for the Spurs.  I recall countless debates with people who argued his value was overrated since he couldn’t score in bunches or do anything else on offense except camp on the perimeter.  Then when the numbers were put to these thoughts…it showed Bruce as taking the best scorer of the other team and forcing them to take almost just as many attempts as points scored.  That alone translated to Bruce scoring in double figures by virtue of not allowing the opponents best scorer to shoot at the normally high percentage they were accustomed to scoring at.

    I don’t have the numbers in front of me or know where to look them up…but I would feel safe in thinking Bruce was (if not the best) at least in the top 5 in league history at keeping an opponents best scorer well below their average shooting %’s.

  • Jimbo

    BB was such an underrated player.  Best perimeter defender I’ve seen since Pippen.  I’m a Suns fan as well as as Spurs fan (I know, it’s not easy to do that), and Bowen guarded the Nash P&R as well as anyone I’ve ever seen.  SIde note: it’s funny how the NBA’s drive to glorify scoring and outlaw defense can have the effect of upping the value of a great defender like BB.  

  • Joedelarios

    wish there was a place to get those stats….

  • Mac

    Bruce “SuperGlue” Bowen.

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