Long-time San Antonio Spurs defensive stalwart Bruce Bowen is set to announce his retirement at a press conference today, multiple outlets are reporting this morning. Bowen probably could have helped a team in a limited role off the bench this season, but with the Spurs apparently not interested in bringing him back after he was included for cap purposes in the Richard Jefferson trade and subsequently waived by the Bucks, Bowen has decided to focus on his post-basketball life.
Admittedly, as a fan of a Western Conference rival, I’ve never been Bowen’s biggest backer. I wouldn’t go as far as Ray Allen in decrying Bowen’s tactics, but at times I do think he crossed the line into dangerous if not dirty play. That said, besides his admirable work off the court, Bowen leaves with an important NBA legacy.
For one, he offers hope to undrafted players. It took Bowen four years to make the league after finishing his career at Cal State-Fullerton, and he did not establish himself as a regular starter until age 29 in Miami. The following year, Bowen signed with San Antonio as a free agent, and he proved to be a perfect fit for Gregg Popovich’s system. By focusing on one specific offensive skill (the corner three-pointer), Bowen made himself useful enough on offense to stay on the floor for 30-plus minutes a night. (That never translated into his individual statistics, however. Bowen retires with one of the most negative career WARP totals of any players.)
I would also say Bowen brought a certain level of attention to the unglamorous work of defensive stoppers. Bowen wasn’t the first player to gain accolades for individual perimeter defense, and he won’t be the last. However, an entire generation of offensive-challenged defenders gets the luxury of the “next Bruce Bowen” tag, not unlike talented young swingmen in the post-Michael Jordan era. For a guy who took nearly a decade just to become the first Bruce Bowen, that’s not bad at all.