Giving Bowen His Due

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nba_g_bowennowitzki_268This last week has been exciting for Spurs fans. Between trading for Richard Jefferson and drafting DeJuan Blair, most of us have been caught in a state of exuberance that borders on delirium. But amidst all the optimism, I failed to give proper recognition to one of my all-time favorite Spurs: Bruce Bowen.

Bowen is currently a Milwaukee Buck, although some (including myself) suspect he will be cut in the coming days. Many of us originally thought Bowen would readily resign with San Antonio but according to some reports, his relationship with Popovich deteriorated this past season, making his return unlikely (I was unable to find the link to the original report but I believe a Portland assistant coach who is close with Bowen said Bowen was not interested in returning to the Spurs).

Whether or not Bowen ever suits up in the silver and black again, I will always be deeply appreciative of his contributions.

During his prime, Bowen’s brilliance on the defensive end of the floor could not be overstated. People do not often talk about defensive plays as acts of self expression, although I have repeatedly argued that they can be seen as such. Bowen is one of the players who makes this conception possible. Game after game he quietly nudges the act of defense beyond craft towards the more lofty title of art.

For some, Bowen is the epitome of a boring player. He even failed to accrue the standard amount of blocks and steals, the shiny medals that adorn the coat of supposedly good defenders. But in his empty stat lines I don’t see the absence of excitement, I see the elegance of minimalism. How many times have I watched Bowen take the floor and suddenly, like some top-hatted turn-of-the-century illusionist, he makes his assignment disappear. And yet, beneath this simplicity lurks an almost baroque commitment to detail. It is fitting that his greatest antagonist was Kobe Bryant: Both of their styles are conceived along microscopic terms.

I haven’t even begun to address the role Bowen played in the San Antonio community and I’m not going to. I am writing this because I believe Bowen has played his last game in a Spurs uniform. But I don’t believe he has given back to the city of San Antonio for the last time. I have no doubt in my mind that the Bruce Bowen Foundation will continue to foster self-respect, confidence and responsibility amongst the young people of central Texas. I am not going to eulogize his generosity and civic-mindedness; they are alive and well.

I will say this: No other San Antonio Spur deserves the right to wear #12. Before too long I better see his jersey hanging in the rafters alongside Robinson et al.

I’ll miss you, Bruce.

Ed. Note: I still haven’t found the yahoo article but this tweet by Ben Golliver of Blazers Edge (via TrueHoop) may be where the rumor began.

  • alamobro

    Any rational, basketball loving fan will agree….that Bowens deserves to be inducted into the hall of fame on his defensive merits.

  • ThatBigGuy

    My favorite Bruce memory is as follows. Reuben Patterson played for the Blazers and trumpeted to the world that he was the Kobe Stopper. Kobe then smoked him in a playoff series against the Blazers. The Lakers then faced the Spurs, and Bowen was asked if he intended to carry on the title of “Kobe Stopper.” He chuckled, then said, “I’m not Kobe Stopper, more like a Kobe Perturber.” So many of my roommates, friends, and teammates at school were Laker, Heat, and Mavs fans, and they all hated Bruce because he played his game every night. He truly embodied the true Spurs spirit.

  • http://clubspurs.com Rachel

    Thanks for that tribute to a player who’s been great for us and is one of my favorites too! He played an important role on three championship teams.

    I think you’ll be as glad as I was to learn that the “relationship deteriorated” thing is apparently just a rumor someone started. This thread reports what Bruce said on Twitter when asked about it: http://www.spursreport.com/forums/spurs-nba-fan-feedback/71834-bruce-bowen-address-his-relationship-pop.html

    And Bruce said with no hesitation that he’d come back and be a Spur if he could: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PW56gv5wOIs&feature=player_embedded (Check about 4:10 in that video. Keep watching and you hear him say San Antonio is home for him and his wife regardless of the trade.)

    I’ve heard speculation that the Spurs won’t sign him even if he’s waived, because he didn’t get much playing time last year and they feel they need the roster spot for someone younger. But I’m no judge of how to put together a team. I just know I’d love for Bruce to be back here to get his fourth ring next year. :)

  • Will

    Not too sure about this rumor since it contradicts Bowen’s interview related here: http://www.mysanantonio.com/sports/spurs/Bowen_says_San_Antonio_will_always_be_home.html

    And if you watch the interview itself (http://www.poundingtherock.com/2009/6/24/923342/bruce-will-be-missed-but-hell-be) you’ll see he doesn’t hesitate for one second before saying “absolutely” (at 4:10)

  • Rambler

    @ Will,

    Point taken – but there are also plenty of unanswered questions about what happened toward the end of last season. In short time Bowen went from starter, to the bench, to completely out of the rotation, to being traded. Against that backdrop, rumors about a deterioriating relationship with Pop do carry some weight.

    I personally like the idea of him coming back to join us at the vet’s min or something. Bowen’s contributions both on and off the court have made him a fan favourite, and even at this stage of his career I think he has something to contribute. He can still play minutes in certain situations, practices will be tougher by his presence, and R-Jeff’s understanding of our defensive structures would probably be hastened significantly with Bruce around to lend his experience.

    If that doesn’t happen though, put me down as a +1 for Bowen’s jersey to be retired. Number 12 would look good next to Elliot’s, Avery’s and Robinson’s.

  • Justin

    Bruce Bowen should definitely have his jersey retired.

  • Rosco

    Anyone that can do this deserves to have his # retired.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOTnU2VaS_s

    In all seriousness – I love Bruce and I took pride in looking at his line after a game and knowing that didn’t even begin to tell the story.

  • AP

    Has there ever been any discussion about Bruce coaching? Assuming his relationship with Pop is not beyond repair, he would be a great defense-focused assistant to help Hill and RJ develop into the type of stopper we’re used to seeing.
    Although, maybe Pop can do that on his own…

  • ChillFAN

    Give Bruce a coaching job, that’s a great idea, plus it develops young talent.

  • http://clubspurs.com Rachel

    Apparently Bowen denied the rumor about his relationship with Pop deteriorating: http://www.spursreport.com/forums/spurs-nba-fan-feedback/71834-bruce-bowen-address-his-relationship-pop.html

    Thanks for the great Bowen tribute!

  • Rick

    It’d be interesting to see if Bruce would want to be groomed to eventually take over the job coaching the Austin Toros. It’d be a great thing for the Spurs if he could start off all the young players by teaching them how to really play defense.

  • SA_Ray

    Based on his interview I still think he will be back in a Spurs uni assuming the Bucks cut him. He definitely deserves to have his jersey retired here regardless of whether he returns.
    I met Bruce last year and he was great. He signed my Bowen jersey and even gave my 4 year old daughter a hug. He is class all the way and I hope he at least comes back as a defensive coach in the future.

  • http://www.seekingandtelling.blogspot.com pollackj

    Bowen has been my second favorite Spur (behind Manu) for years. I’ve argued stridently that the Spurs should be described as a big 4, rather than a big 3 because Bowen’s contributions on defense were just as valuable as Parker’s on the offensive end.

    I read the same article you did about Bruce’s deteriorating relationship with Coach Pop and it broke my heart. I hope that if Bruce decides not to return, it is because he is hanging up his sneakers. Seeing him in another jersey would be really tough.

  • LionZion

    I don’t believe Bowen will be back as well, not because he doesn’t want to, but Pop is trying to find new personnel and just go from there, even though they may not immediately be upto Bowen’s standard.

    As far as a falling out between Bowen and Pop, one of the posters on ST twittered Bowen about the Yahoo article which cites such an issue and Bowen’s reply was something like “Who said that? I wanna read it too” and then later he said, “They are just looking for a response. Trying to put stuff out there”. I can’t remember the other responses, but the general tone seemed to be ‘no falling out’.
    Seems a bit silly to think after all these years, when its time to bid adieu, they would decide to not like each other.

    Then again, stranger things happen.

  • idahospur

    Right now, the Spurs have to look at all potential players who have an interest to come to SA and what they can offer the team, as their #1 goal is another championship. Bowen has brought so much to the team and city, it would be hard to ignore him if he asked to come back. Whatever happens, Bruce Bowen is always a Spur.

  • Bryan

    Great article here on Bowen. He will certainly be missed. I think it’s a travesty that he never earned a Defensive Player of the Year award. It’s likely that he didn’t because of his lack of the defensive stats, as mentioned. Either way, his contributions to 3 of the titles in SA were probably greater than the 1 to which Avery Johnson contributed. If #6 hangs in the rafters, #12 most definitely deserves to join.

  • Big50

    As much as we talk about Paker, Manu and TD, Bowen was a huge part of the Spurs championships. He’ll be missed. He may have been a little chippy on the court, but he is clearly a class act off of it.

  • kalone

    Bruce is everything good about sports. He’s a guy with almost no natural athleticism, and certainly no natural basketball skill. His jump shot is so unnatural it makes Keith Van Horn look like a fluid ballet dancer. Bruce just worked harder than anyone else. That’s what sports is about: effort and grit. To hell with talent. I don’t believe in it. Of course, I watch Matt Harpring play and I have to question everything I just wrote.

  • este

    Most who argue for bringing Bruce back do so for sentimental reasons. I recall Bruce talking publicly about how difficult it was for him to come off the bench. It seemed like he was lobbying through the press to get back into the regular rotation and I’m sure that didn’t sit well with Pop. When Ginobili was asked to come off the bench he didn’t gripe he played the good solider and swallowed his pride for the good of the team.

    Many Spurs fans are frustrated by the Spurs inability to develop young, athletic players if you continue to retain the Bowen’s, Finley’s, etc. these young players will never have the opportunity to develop and flourish.

  • zack

    bowen deserves much respect here in san antonio, who knows what happend with pop, best case scenario, would be to assign him as a defensive coach, retire his jersey , and if he becomes a free agent let him play one more year and have a proper exit here. thats the least we can do for the man who worked his tail off for so long here! we love you bruuuuuuuuce!!!!!

  • manufan

    Adios Bruce. Thank you for everything. It’s time to move on.

  • John Ligon

    There’s no question that from 2004-2006, Bruce Bowen was the third most important Spur behind only Tim and Manu.

  • http://myspace.com/ka1z3r KA1Z3R

    este- Manu actually prefers playing from the bench. He said in an interview (I looked but couldn’t find it) that he can see and study what the other team’s doing so that when he comes off the bench, he’ll know exactly what to do and how to react to their gameplan. Manu’s a better player off the bench than he would be a starter.

  • Hollywood

    It’s unfortuante that Bowen’s relationship with Pop soured. Who knows if that’s actually true, and if so, then to what degree. Nonetheless, Bowen always carried himself with class.

    I’m not looking forward to Finley somehow being on the team and Bowen not, but that’s the way it will probably be.

    Being very media savvy, I assume Bowen realizes how much he was appreciated here.

    His jersey should definitely be retired. It would be a tough argument for the HOF, but when he retires I would hope someone here would open the conversation.

    Was there a better defensive player during the “aughts” (or whatever we call this decade)?

  • este

    KA1Z3R I recall things differently. Manu stating that he prefers to start but didn’t complain about coming off the bench because Pop made the case to him about needing his energy and offense when either Tony or Timmy take their usual end of the 1st qtr. rest.

  • Jimbo

    So the Bucks have shockingly not made Charlie Villanueva a restricted free agent, which means that he is an unrestricted free agent and is not returning to the Bucks. He could be the perfect sweet-shooting 4 in our system (albeit not very capable defensively) and is far younger and not a headcase like Rasheed Wallace. Also, players not renowned for their defense (eg Michael Finley) become competent defensively in the Spurs’ system. Charlie V. could be a perfect match if we can get him…

  • Jimbo
  • buns

    Hi everyone,
    A few images of Bowen in his early days when he was playing for Evreux in France (1994-1995) in ProB (second level in France). In the game on the video, Bruce posted 50 points and was considered as the best US player of ProB.

    (first half of the video).
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x8kqzm_michel-veyronnet-coach-de-bruce-bow_sport

    He went to Besan̤on (ProA, first level) in 1997 and posted solid offensive numbers Рbest scorer with something like 23+ points.
    We were quite surprised when we saw Pat Riley turning him into a defensive specialist with the Miami Heat.
    His playing in Europe in he 90’s and then finding a place in the NBA (and even winning multiple titles) was not your typical journey to NBA’s pinacle. Specialy in those days where the Atlantic seemed way more larger to cross for bb players.

  • http://poormansgm.blogspot.com Jaceman

    I greatly appreciate Bowen’s efforts on the defensive end, and he definitely leaves a void on the defensive end that the Spurs need to fill. In my opinion, Spurs now have two needs, a defensive specialist on the wing, and a competent big man that can complement Duncan’s post play. Ideally, I’d not want Duncan playing the center. I feel that the wing position would be harder to fill, but I’d be willing to trade Roger Mason, Michael Finley’s expiring contract (should he return), and/or Matt Bonner for something. I can’t think of anyone that would be readily available immediately, but the general idea would be something like Raja Bell 3 years ago. Maybe Dahntay Jones? Give Morris Peterson another go? DeShawn Stevenson? Somebody. Arguably you could find that person as the player behind Richard Jefferson, so either way. In terms of bigs, if we could I’d say Mehmet Okur, but I highly doubt that Spurs could offer anything he’d look at, if he did opt out. Next would be Rasheed Wallace or Rasho Nesterovic.

  • Will

    I’m still not sold on the fallout with Pop – if it were the case he would have replied something like “sure – why not – if the Spurs still think they need me, why not” but not something like “absolutely”.

    But anyway I of course agree with everybody that Bowen was a key part that somehow didn’t get the recognition he deserved with the DPOY award (but to be honest there’s another Spurs who never got it and deserves it even more) – but all in all still 3 rings and a lot of nominations to All-NBA defensive teams – it’s not like nothing!

  • ChillFAN

    Will, that post is spot on. In truth, Bowen and Tim playing together probably prevented them from getting the DPOY award.

  • Bryan

    I’m with you, Will. There is one other Spur who has never been DPOY and probably deserves it more. That’s a travesty.

  • Will

    I guess it’s easier for Duncan to disregard that when he’s been widely labeled as “the best PF of all times” about half-way through his career :)

    I think Bowen never got it because a good half of the voters don’t actually watch basketball and prefer to go with stats lines – much easier to defend your pick if you have a good stats line to back you up.

  • Ruth Ann Donges

    I am so sorry to hear that Bruce Bowen was traded. I was at a game one time and Bruce was sitting in the middle of the court with his little boy bouncing the ball with him. Bruce was my favorite all time player and I will always remember him.
    Thanks for your tribute to him.

  • francisco

    When my son was 10 years old, he was hit by a car and almost killed. The accident left him with several broken bones and a devastated spirit. Then, about three days after the accident, we got a huge box in the mail. It was addressed to my son Macario, and the sender identified himself simply as B.B., from San Antonio, Texas.

    I took the box to my son, who was bedridden but also intrigued by the box. He opened it and found six Spurs shirts sent to him with Bruce Bowen’s name on the back of each. He also found a pair of Bruce’s shoes that he had worn in the recent NBA Finals against the Pistons. Also, the box included an official NBA basketball signed by all the Spurs.

    Somehow, Bruce found out about the accident and sent the gift box, unsolicited, and it became the best medicine for my kid’s recovery, which became much more bearable thereafter. My son even took the ball and Bruce’s shoes to school for “show and tell.”

    In our household Bruce Bowen is, and always will be, a class act and an unparalleled healer.

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  • http://myspurslink.blogspot.com Robby

    Bowen, you will be missed!

  • http://48minutesofhell.com Gillyluvsdaspurs

    Bruce’s D has been well recognized from the numerous other posters. Let me just give him his due. Bruce hit countless monster corner treys in his heyday. He not only hit his corner at a fantastic percentage, almost 39%. He hit them at crunch time. When on the court, Bruce’s will to win was phenomenal.

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