Long-time Spurs henchman and three-time NBA champion, Bruce Bowen, can be spotted occasionally on television these days as an NBA analyst for ESPN. The 43 was named the All-Defensive First Team in five consecutive seasons and three more times to the All-Defensive Second Team, so he’s got first-hand knowledge of what it takes to succeed at the NBA level. In a conversation with the San Antonio Express-News‘ Dan McCarney, Bowen says Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter both “settled,” but could have been all-time greats like Kobe Bryant.
Presumably, the 43-year-old Bowen is referring to T-Mac and Vince settling on talent alone after McCarney asked him to name his three favorite players to line up against during his 10-year NBA career:
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.
While it’s become commonplace to lump Vinsanity and T-Mac in with those super-talented players who could have become NBA champions, or something more than what they were — and in Vince’s case, what he is — it’s a tad unfair to believe it had anything to do with their motivation.
Settling implies they had a higher ceiling, and they might have. It’s still up for debate. The difference is Bowen played against both near, or at, their peaks, so he would know better than most of us what they could have done differently to excel as players.
That being said, Bowen relied upon coach Gregg Popovich‘s system and future hall-of-fame center Tim Duncan to become one of the more revered defensive stoppers in the first decade of the second millennium while capturing three NBA titles. Neither T-Mac or Vince had that sort of support in their own quests for NBA immortality.
McCarney also asked Bowen about Ray Allen referring to him as a dirty player, a tag that Bowen’s been labeled throughout his career:
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.
Here’s some video evidence of Bowen positioning himself under a jump shooter — in this case Vince Carter — in what some refer to as a dirty ploy to injure their ankles when they land:
According to Bowen, that was never his intention. We’ll let the fans decided, but for our part, we don’t like the dirty designation any more than Bowen does. It’s impossible to get in the mind of a player, so we’ll take him at his word that he never intentionally tried to injure a player, even if he always seemed wind up under jump shooters.
Bowen wasn’t blessed with the talents of a T-Mac or Carter, but he played hard and within his rather limited skills. He busted his butt on the defensive end of the floor because — aside from a few spot-ups in the corner — he wasn’t asked to do very much as an offensive player. While McGrady and Vince have both been accused of loafing at certain points in their career, both also had to handle the majority of the offensive load with inferior teammates surrounding them. The same certainly can’t be said for Bowen, so it’s hard to totally agree with his light criticism of their drive to get better.
What do you think?
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