The San Antonio Spurs are retiring the number of Bruce Bowen, which has some people shaking their heads. I'm shaking my head too, but up and down, not side to side. Bowen absolutely deserves to have his jersey retired.
The offensive players make the highlight reels, but defensive players win championships. That's not just empty rhetoric when it comes to players like Bruce Bowen—he helped the Spurs win three.
We wouldn't hesitate to question matters if the Phoenix Suns decided to retire the jersey of Steve Nash, who has an equal reputation for being great on only one side of the ball, it's just that his was built on the other side.
The Spurs' great teams that won the rings in the 2000s weren't teams built around offense. They were defensive masterpieces. The 2004 version of the Spurs, though they didn't win the championship, had the lowest defensive rating of any team in the three-point era.
These were great teams built around the fundamentals of basketball, defense, and the offense of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Bowen's contributions can't be measured in field-goal percentage or rebounds or steals. It's beyond that. In an era where the greatest challenges to the title were coming from the likes of Kobe Bryant, Chauncey Billups and Dwyane Wade, great perimeter defense was the best alternative to a great defensive player.
Bowen made the Spurs a champion. He didn't do it by himself, but he was a sure contributor. It's a good thing that players like Dennis Rodman and Bruce Bowen are getting their due recognition for what happens on the "other" side of the ball.