Q&A: Bruce Bowen

Posted by Unknown on Tuesday, September 23, 2014 with No comments
Courtesy of Dan McCarney 

As someone who made his living on defense, how do you rate Kawhi Leonard so far as a defensive player? 
That’s the thing – I don’t see him strictly as a defensive player. He’s one of the most complete players that we still don’t know how to define. You still can’t put a label on him as far as what he does and what kind of player he’s going to be. We weren’t talking about Kawhi during the first two games of the Finals. Then all of a sudden, Boom. And it wasn’t necessarily the defense that he played, it was his offense and being able to attack that got him MVP of the Finals. He was matched up with the best player in the world, and I think the team’s defense is what really allowed him to be able to stand out in that limelight. This is no slap to him, but I thought Tim (Duncan), if there was anyone who was consistent from Game 1, it was him. But the last three, it was like, Whoa, OK.
Speaking of defense, do you just cringe when you watch James Harden?
See, I don’t cringe, because I remember him in OKC. In fairness to James, yes, (his defense) has been terrible, but what are the principles in Houston? I’m very disappointed in their team concept. That’s what I don’t see. So, if there are no rules and regulations, how do you hold anyone accountable? Speaking to James about this, he’ll say it – “I know I have to do a better job.” But without any direction, without a coach saying, hey, we’re going to send this player baseline because that will be our best bet, it’s really tough. Defense is something you have to practice very day, especially rotations. We went over our rotations every day in all my eight years in San Antonio. You would think me, Tim, Tony and Manu all knew what we were supposed to do. But others don’t. They have to become as familiar as we were. That’s why I go back to principles. Go back to OKC and they’re playing the Lakers, he guarded Kobe pretty well. That’s why I say, what’s going on (in Houston) is about something else.
Who did you enjoy guarding the most?
I’ll give you three. The competitors – Kobe (Bryant), Dirk (Nowitzki) and Michael Redd. Every single time I was going to play them, I had to be (on my game) because I knew they were going to be prepared and they wanted to keep me from every getting any momentum. Those three were the most competitive I can think of off the top of my head. Of course, there were times it was Ray Allen, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter. The latter two, Tracy might have been one of the most talented but he’d settle. He wouldn’t necessarily bring it the whole time. Vince, if he was more competitive, if he had the desire of Kobe, he could have been one of the all-time greats. But…he settled to a point where you accomplish a few things and that’s that.
Who do you wish you could have defended but didn’t get a chance, past or present?
Magic (Johnson) or Larry (Bird). Those players were smart, so that’s what would be the intriguing part for me. They were so intelligent on the floor, and they knew how to utilize their size. I would try to invite Magic to shoot a jump shot, but he wouldn’t just shoot a jump shot. He’d try to take me down on the block. That’s where, OK, I need some help. Whereas Larry wouldn’t handle the ball a lot, but he’d get it where he wanted on the floor because he understood the game. So it’s the basketball IQ of those players, I’d be curious to see how I’d fare. Maybe not well at all, but just to have the opportunity, I would have liked that.
Looking back, how did you deal with peers like Ray Allen labeling you a dirty player? 
I don’t think it was very fair. You work so hard to get to a certain point in a sport you love, it’s almost like they’re discrediting that, all the time it took for you to get there. It would be the equivalent of getting into a good school and somebody crediting it to having a family member on the school board. That’s what it felt like. To me, it was the utter disrespect of someone working hard at something and getting better and finally arriving at a place they wanted to be. But then, I realized that’s how they felt. I can’t tell somebody else that they don’t feel a certain way. Everyone has an opinion, even if it’s something I don’t agree with. I accept that.
Being on this side of the ball, I don’t call anyone dirty because I know how that felt. If I see something I think is intentional, I’ll say that. There have been certain situations, like World Peace elbowing James Harden, I thought that was intentional. But (Dwyane Wade), one time he kicked a guy, and I can’t say that’s intentional. I’ve been in situations like that. You don’t go out and say, “I’m going to kick you, or step under a guy so he’ll land on my feet.” Those are a lot of things I got involved in. There are certain things I’ve admitted to. I was wrong when I kicked Ray, and I admitted that. But there are a lot of things that were just basketball plays and it was just unfortunate someone got hurt or a foul call was made. I never went out on the floor with the intention of hurting someone or take a guy out. That wasn’t in my nature. But I know there are a lot of people who felt that way. I just look at it this way – I know and God knows, and that’s all I can go for.
There was one game where I didn’t play well. Pop could tell. I had had a phone call from (then-NBA executive) Stu Jackson, around the time Isiah Thomas was coaching and he said if he was still playing he’d go after me. So we happened to be playing Charlotte and Adam Morrison, I was giving him like a three-foot cushion. It wasn’t me. When Pop found out that Stu Jackson called me, he hit the roof. He said, “Just play.” So from that point on, I did.
Why do you think Kobe never took issue with how you played? 
When we started, there was a mutual disgust with each other. That disgust turned into respect real quick, because it was more about, he’s a competitor, I’m a competitor, and we’re competing. In that moment, you’d be like, wow, this is fun. But if I came out to be friends with guys, that’s something I wasn’t going to do. I’d see guys be buddy-buddy on the floor, and that was not me. I’m not out there trying to be your friend, because I know I’m not part of your circle. So for me, I’m not bringing friendships out on the floor. I’m bringing a competitive nature.
Having been so obviously motivated last season, what will it take the Spurs to repeat now that they might be satisfied? 
Health is always going to be an issue. I don’t think Pop will play a lot of guys early in the season. But when you get that ring, it does something to you. You think it belongs to you. So you talk about the motivation, one thing they haven’t done…is win back-to-back. So I think the hunger of them being there and understanding what it takes is something that puts them ahead of the curve. They know what they can do with a focused mindset. You look at how close they were already – if Boris (Diaw) boxes out, oh, there’s (another) championship.
Does it bother you the Spurs never repeated on your watch?
Man, I have three rings. The fact I didn’t (repeat) is easier to deal with. Three satisfies the fact you didn’t go back-to-back. Yeah, I would have liked to, but I can’t really do anything about that now.
Do you have any go-to Tim or Pop stories? 
Tim thinks he’s a comedian. One time I was preoccupied, and he comes up to me and says, “Did you know a carrot only crunches so many times before you have to swallow?” I just looked at him like, “Right now? In the middle of the game?” I knew he was trying to get my mind off a bad call or something, and it worked. But that was the best he could do? He’s really not as funny as he thinks he is. (Laughed)
With Pop, we would do these events. So we’re at the Missions stadium to play softball as a team-building thing. We had jerseys with the names on the back, and I couldn’t find mine. Tony’s like, “Who is Has-kall?” It was Eddie Haskell (the notorious posterior-smoocher from Leave It To Beaver). So that was one of Pop’s nicknames for me because I could be mischievous sometimes. “What? Me? I wasn’t the one who put your breakfast tacos on the ground and now there are ants all over them. That wasn’t me.” He’d blow up at me in the middle of the game. “Don’t start, Eddie.” I wanted to say, “Pop, I’m Bruce,” but I knew it wasn’t the right time.
As competitive as you both are, how often did you and Pop go at it? 
No. 1, that’s not the way you deal with him. No. 2, he’s your coach. There’s a time and a place for everything. As athletes, we feel like we can say whatever we want. With Pop, I had the opportunity to go into his office. It didn’t mean he saw what I was saying, and vice versa. There were many times I left his office thinking he’s nuttier than a fruit cake. But what are you going to do, quit? No, you keep working and things will get better. I just always understood that was a losing battle. We would have discussions behind closed doors, and it was never a case where it blew up. It was more like, “Instead of running 17 plays for me in a year, can we get it up to 19?” And he’d say no.