In his eight seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, Bruce Bowen earned his keep playing tough defense and hitting timely three-point shots from the short corner, helping the San Antonio Spurs win three championships in the last decade.
I had the chance to talk to the former Cal-State Fullerton Titan this weekend in Orlando, FL. We discussed the Spurs’ quiet dominance in his eight seasons with the team, his secrets to being a shutdown defender, the corner three-point shot he made a living off throughout his career, the best defenders in the league today, and Tim Duncan. And yes, bow ties.
You have become notorious for your bow ties. Is this simply a fashion statement or is there a reason behind it?
It was something I did to put me away from everyone else.
It’s more of a metaphor for me as far as using the three letters as an inspirational message. I have an acronym for the three letters. People may look at it and say it’s Bruce Bowen and a bow tie. But that’s not it. The acronym I have for it is: being optimistic wins. And if you look at my career, it had to take a lot of optimism from me to be able to accomplish a lot of the goals I have accomplished.
During your difficult times when you feel as though you may not make it, you can reflect and understand it’s something you can do. Not just in sports but in anything you do.
During your eight seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, the team won three championships. Can you tell us a little bit about the team’s quiet dominance during that stretch?
Our dominance wasn’t the “Chunky Monkey” of ice creams. We were vanilla. But the beautiful part about being of vanilla is it’s worldwide. People recognize vanilla all over the world.
But what you’re able to do with vanilla is add to it to enhance the taste. You can add bananas, you can add strawberries, you can add brownies. All of those different things you can do to enhance the simpleness of vanilla.
That’s the type of team we had and it started with Coach Popovich and the simple poem by Jacob Riis, talking about pounding the rock. The guys who is continuously trying to break the rock and, after so many tries, it breaks in two. But he knows it wasn’t the last hit or the one before that necessarily did it, but rather all of the repetitive motions of trying to break it.
During your career you made five All-Defensive First Teams. What were your secrets for being a shutdown defender?
It’s more about respecting your opponent, first and foremost.
It’s an old cliché that you must respect your opponent. When you truly respect something, you pay attention to detail, and when you pay attention to detail, it becomes a part of who you are when it comes to preparation.
I knew what Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady were capable of doing, and if I didn’t take that seriously, I would have lost that battle every night. But because I did have a great amount of respect for them, I was able to have a cautious fear. Not that I feared them as players, but I feared what they could do if it wasn’t taken appropriately.
Who are some of the best defenders in the game today?
I like Landry Fields. I talked with Landry and expressed to him some of the things I see in his game. I think he’s a glue guy. Being that he’s a glue guy, he doesn’t need a lot, doesn’t need to be featured in the offense, but finds a way to get things done.
Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, when they understand they need to play defense, they do. But it’s not something they may do every night. They are capable of doing it every night, but it’s taxing on the body, so sometimes guys just don’t do it. But there are some guys who don’t have the abilities of James and Wade and can’t take nights off.
Tony Allen is another guy who gets into guys.
While you were playing, you were known for your success shooting from the short corner three-point shot. Was that something you would put an emphasis on during your workouts?
It’s what fit our offense at that time. When I was I was in Miami prior to that, I got a lot of my shots at the top of the key and the wings.
The way our offense was set up, we were set. When you have Tony [Parker] and Manu [Ginobili] running the pick and roll, if they run it close to my side, they know they have an alley because the defender doesn’t want to leave me in the corner.
People say the corner three is the shortest, so it’s the easiest three-point shot. But that’s not the case. There have been times when it’s off and you know it could lead to an easy transition basket for the other team.
Are there any players who you particularly liked talking trash with on the court?
I didn’t trash talk when I played. That wasn’t something I didn’t do because it wasn’t necessary, and because it wasn’t necessary, I didn’t do it.
Give our readers a quick, funny Tim Duncan story.
He’s a funny guy. Sometimes he would say certain things in the midst of a game, and we knew one another real well where we could joke. It’s like you and your buddy when you say a certain line of a movie and you both chuckle at it.
It just so happens a lot of our joking had to do with my mishaps. In 2007 right before the finals against Cleveland, they come out with the Defensive Player of the Year award, and it wasn’t me...again.
And he’s like, "Man Bruce, I never thought I would call you Susan. But you are the Susan Lucci of the Defensive Player of the Year award." I say, "Haha, really funny TD.”