Bruce Bowen and thanking the thankless job

by

If anything exemplifies the name of this blog, it is the nightly torture chamber Bruce Bowen put opponents through during his tenure with the San Antonio Spurs.

Many nights Bowen put individual scoring endeavors through 48 minutes of hell, replacing pitchforks, fire pits, and demons with active hands and busy feet in torturing lost souls. All the while Bowen never sought—and rarely received—his due 15 minutes of fame.

On March 21, the San Antonio Spurs will honor Bruce Bowen for that by hanging his jersey in the rafters of the AT&T Center.

Some bristle at the thought of bestowing such honors on role players, either jokingly asking when we can expect Fabricio Oberto’s retirement ceremony or outright accusing the Spurs of a shameless marketing ploy:

“San Antonio evidently needs another marketing ploy — one that insults the very fabric of this proud basketball powerhouse. “ (via John McMullen, Sports Network)

I would counter that 1.) Bruce Bowen was simply not a role player, and 2.) his jersey retirement validates the very fabric of this proud basketball powerhouse.

The criteria for retiring numbers varies from team-to-team, and the inclusion of Bowen to a list of names that also includes James Silas, Johnny Moore, Avery Johnson, and Sean Elliot alongside Hall of Famers George Gervin and David Robinson, the Spurs have drawn some questions about their list of jersey-retirement qualifications.

Outside of the Gervin and Robinson, none of the names hanging from the rafters carry much weight in the larger context of the NBA. Still, at least they can claim stake to some significant franchise statistical markers. Bowen by contrast is unquantifiable.

But the term role player is generally reserved for interchangeable cogs to a much greater core, players that worked hard to overcome their own considerable limitations and complement stars. Bowen, as Tim Duncan attested to, is anything but. After all, the Spurs have been trying to replace Bowen for years.

This honor is not a tribute to Bowen’s hard work. Well, it is, but the San Antonio Spurs do not formally award players for their hard work. They expect it of them.

Instead, the retirement of Bowen’s no. 12 jersey is a testament to—and narrative of—an elite player and a new way of looking at the game and evaluating it. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford have always looked at the game of basketball from a different perspective, it makes sense they would honor it similarly.

Historically we tend to evaluate legends by their battles, and think of great battles as a shot-for-shot affair. The heavyweight fighter that ruthlessly trades blows in the middle of the ring will always be remembered over the tactician that wards off such shots and wears his opponent out.

In the NBA our fondest memories are scoring duels like those engaged by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, making each other soar to new heights by forcing the other to answer his own basket with another. By those standards Bowen never brought his game to greater heights. He simply prevented his opponent from reaching theirs.

Bowen’s showcase highlight duel? A two-minute feature run by ABC sports showing the off-the-ball work battle between he and Rip Hamilton in one of the worst rated NBA Finals in recent memory.

But who is to say the similarly one-dimensional Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire’s of the world contribute more to winning and the narrative of basketball simply because their primary pursuit focuses on scoring the basketball rather than preventing it?

After all, there is no shortage of 20-ppg career scorers currently with, or waiting on, their own retired jersey hanging from the rafters. But after March 21 there is only one Bruce Bowen.

 

  • http://profiles.google.com/lordxar Ray Briggs II

    Put me in the camp that KNOWS this is well deserved.Few players better exemplify the pound the rock, defense first, dogged determination of those championship Spurs teams than Bruce Bowen. People outside of the Spurs Nation won’t understand, but that’s just fine by me.

  • Anonymous

    Nice write up Jesse! Like the fact he got this honor for being great at a skill other than scoring kind of like what Johnny did in his career but in assists instead. Especially in 1981-82 season with almost 10 assists per game. Congratulations Bruce! Thanks for being part of the equation of 3 of those 4 Championships.

  • Len

    I think we would be remiss not to mention how CLUTCH Bruce was.  In addition to the relentless D and playing a huge part in creating the championship teams identity, Bruce hit many, many key shots (usually corner 3′s) in important games.  He NEVER shied away from taking important shots and was successful more times than not. While certainly not the most skilled offensive player, he took what skills he did have and made the most out of them.

    Kudos to you Bruce.  You are the poster child for persistence and a true grinder.  

  • PR

    Bowen was elected eight times to the NBA All-Defensive First and Second Teams—How many players can claim that?

  • Deeds130

    I have always said that Bruce “Super Glue” Bown was as valuable as most all-stars if not more so, and that the so-called “big 3″ was a complete falsehood, this club’s success during that championship era was possible because of our BIG 4. True, those teams did have scoring droughts, but Bowen just got it, he was talented athletically, but it was equally his non-athletic talents that made his so uniquely valuable in the team game. No surprise that the Spurs fortunes changed with his departure, a another 2 years of Bruce wouldn’t have been enough by itself, but it would have been more competitive than what we got. I couldn’t believe it when in RJs first year here, fans were saying he was the best SF the Spurs had since Sean Elliot. We’re still looking for a guy that can do what he did so well, and it’s nearly impossible. Bruce Bowen deserves all the respect in the world for his ethic, his skills, and his contribution.

  • Deeds130

    I have always said that Bruce “Super Glue” Bown was as valuable as most all-stars if not more so, and that the so-called “big 3″ was a complete falsehood, this club’s success during that championship era was possible because of our BIG 4. True, those teams did have scoring droughts, but Bowen just got it, he was talented athletically, but it was equally his non-athletic talents that made his so uniquely valuable in the team game. No surprise that the Spurs fortunes changed with his departure, a another 2 years of Bruce wouldn’t have been enough by itself, but it would have been more competitive than what we got. I couldn’t believe it when in RJs first year here, fans were saying he was the best SF the Spurs had since Sean Elliot. We’re still looking for a guy that can do what he did so well, and it’s nearly impossible. Bruce Bowen deserves all the respect in the world for his ethic, his skills, and his contribution.

  • DorieStreet

    http://www.nba.com/spurs/features/120123_bruce_bowen_by_the_numbers

     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Bowen

    The NBA recognized him as being the top or second best player at his position defensively for eight straight seasons- seven of them while he was wearing the Silver & Black.

    Cheer loud and long, every fan who will be present that Wednesday night in March.
    Every fan watching from afar– give a toast to Bruce.

  • Pingback: Spurs Nation » Blog brothers get us ready for Atlanta’s visit

  • Anonymous

    For others to sit back and make claims of whether an organization is right to honor one of it’s own is a person who only lives in the “glamor” of a sport.  They have no clue about team concept or team chemistry.  They write their point of views based solely for attention and out of ignorance.

    Bruce Bowen was THE premier perimeter defender of his time.  Stats don’t clearly indicate what he did…but Championships solidified what he provided.  And as Len pointed out…his “clutch” shooting at the most opportune time in games, playoffs, and championship finals are hard to duplicate by anybody in this league unless they were “all-star” type of players.

    Won’t be able to make that ceremony.  Wish I could.  A tear in my eye, A lump in my throat, And a deeply heart felt appreciation to Bruce almighty is welling inside me at this moment just thinking about it though.

  • ILoveMySpurs

    I was so happy when i heard this!
    The only thing i have to add that i haven’t read is this: hope this will help as fuel for our role players on the team today and future to come. Great role players were absolutely key in our 10 year run, and, hopefully, it will further cement the spurs culture of hard work and dedication to a TEAM game.
    Go Spurs!!

  • http://radsci.uthscsa.edu/index.php/User:Nima Nima K.

    There can only be one……Bruce Bowen.

    you da man, Bruce!

  • Deeds130

    GREAT photo, btw.

  • Bob

    It shows the drawback of filling spots based upon talent instead of need. RJ might have been more talented but that’s not necessarily what the Spurs needed at that position. They needed someone who could defend well and shoot 3′s. The ability to drive or post up would be nice but less necessary. If you fill a spot based on talent you have to hope the player can adjust to his new role or you have to change your gameplan to adapt to the player. RJ and the Pop have struggled doing that.

    Now if the Spurs had acquired a guy like Battier and then tried to find a big they would probably be in a better situation now.

  • Anonymous

    When the Spurs recruited Bruce, he was reluctant to sign with the Spurs because he didn’t want to be known as the guy who “replaced” Sean Elliot. Well, he didn’t replace Elliot. He made his own indubitable mark on the Spurs.  The greatest defender on the perimeter any of us is likely to see don a Spurs uniform.  When you attended Spurs game from 2002 – 2009, you never thought, “We need Bruce to be great tonight on…!!”  That was a given.  He was consistently great and he allowed the Spurs to rise to a level they never experienced before or after.  I know that when I discuss the Spurs’ “GREATS”, Bowen’s name will undoubtedly be commended time and time again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/spencer.pierce1 Spencer Pierce

    Couldn’t agree more.  I loved how Bruce used to frustrate Kobe like nobody else could, but this is also a statement about what the Spurs are all about… Defense.  “Defense wins championships”, and Bruce Bowen was long recognized as the best perimeter defender in the league for years.  There’s no doubt in my mind that the Spurs wouldn’t have won four championships without him.  Congrats Bruce, you really deserve the recognition.

  • Anonymous

    Me and my friend are 16 and from Brownsburg, IN and we read this blog everyday. We love it so much we couldn’t help but start our own, so we made one that isn’t team specific but just focuses on the league as a whole. We have a live updated scoreboard, updated standings and stats, a weekly poll and weekly awards. Also, we have a page called This Day In Basketball History that we update daily. Check it out sometime! One of our latest posts: “The KI-AI Comparison” which is a look at how similar Kyrie Irving is to Allen Iverson with statistics to back it up

    http://hebankeditin.blogspot.com

  • Crystakke

    After we traded Bowen and he subsequently retired, I remember there were a couple of players, from the D-league I think, …anyway, they were with the Spurs on a few 10-day contracts and they were wearing No. 12 jersey. I was outraged that management allowed that to happen because I knew that Bowen’s number belonged in the rafters. He deserved to have his number retired, whenever that may happen, and in the meantime nobody should wear his number. I really thought that Pop and R.C. dropped the ball on that one. Glad to see it happening now. I always thought that the core of those championships teams will have their numbers retired. Duncan is a no brainer as a HOF and Ginobili will probably make the HOF too. Parker is the only one who most likely wont make it, but he absolutely deserves his number retired someday. 
    Bowen’s been with this team 8 years, won 3 titles and gave us a defensive identity. Who doesn’t get it, doesn’t know basketball. Just sorry he wasn’t younger so he could still play now. Our defense could have used him. Or the Spurs should have hired him as an assistant coach. Imagine what he could teach Kawhi Leonard about individual defense.

  • SanDiegoSpur

    After Duncan and Pop, Bowan was as responsible as anyone for 3 of our championships and really whole defensive identity of the Spurs: well deserved honor!