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The 3 Best NBA Rivalries of Bruce Bowen’s Career

You can still count on seeing Bruce Bowen as an NBA analyst for ESPN, but after retiring in 2009, a part of Bowen can still be seen in AT&T Center in San Antonio now — the Spurs retired his No. 12 Wednesday night, the seventh Spur honored.

And that’s about as close as anyone who had to play against him wants him.

He was on the NBA’s All-Defensive Team from 2003-08, and eight times total, on the hip of Kobe Bryant on every cut, and on the lips in the postgame of every guy he had to guard.

He’s still Bowen with the bowtie, but he’s no longer the pest every offensive star in the NBA loved to draw but few were able to embarrass. When Bowen was on the floor in 2003-04, his time on the floor with the Spurs translated into the third-fewest points per 100 possessions (92.9) of any player from 2000-09 (No. 1? Tim Duncan from 2003-04. And you see why that team was the best).

Specifically, he had a tendency to stick his foot under a shooter during a jumper. No one keeps stats on twisted ankles from a maneuver like that, but we all know how it would have gone over in a pick-up game. Fans fed up with Bowen have made literal “greatest hits” mixes on YouTube that show off the “dirty” play Ray Allen called him out on, and some of them are a cross between a “Rocky” showing and a ballet. Let’s be real, when Isiah Thomas is reportedly telling his players to do anything and everything for payback after Bowen undercut Jamal Crawford, you know you’re in rare air. In the more-restrained NBA, the most you could do was call him out after.

A sampling of former players turned NBA executives produced generally favorable views of Bowen’s play. Yet while acknowledging that Bowen might come close to crossing the line, no one was willing to completely condemn “Eddie Scissorhands” (as Phil Jackson once dubbed Bowen) for his questionable tactics.

“He’s a very tough, hard-nosed defender who crowds you and tries to get under your skin,” said an Eastern Conference general manager who spoke on condition of anonymity. “He’s basically a pest.”

He also has three championship rings, but on the way to those titles, he picked up more than a typical share of rivalries. Here are his most memorable.

Bowen vs. Kobe Bryant: In 32 faceoffs, Bryant averaged 26 points on 42 percent shooting and nearly four turnovers — higher points and turnovers than his career average and worse shooting. A typical night for Bryant meant getting his points but shooting a lower percentage, like a 9-of-33, or 5-of-16, or 6-of-19 night like he had against Bowen in just 2005.

The ultimate tale of the tape: Bowen and the Spurs were 18-14 against L.A. and Bryant.

Bowen vs. Ray Allen: Caught kicking Allen (there have also been similar moves against Wally Sczcerbiak‘s face and Amar’e Stoudemire) once, it made you root for Ray — the dude who needs no rooting for because of his perfect jumper. Anyway, Bowen went 17-9 against Allen in their faceoffs.

Jesus Shuttlesworth got 21.6 points per and shot 43 percent from three, beating his career averages with those marks. So why do we remember it that much? That kick in the back didn’t help things.

Bowen vs. Vince Carter: Probably no one cheered Bowen’s departure from Miami after two years to the Spurs more than Vinsanity. Now, no one actually believes the NBA is a no-contact game like Dr. Naismith conceived. Maybe if he’d met Bowen’s brand of defense, he’d have reconsidered.

We know defense can get brutal in the league, but some of their showdowns got heated. Evidence below:

VC got 21.6 points like Ray on Bowen in 25 games, but he only shot 41 percent from the field. In the 10 games they faced each other in 2001, VC was putting up 27.6 points on 46 percent shooting. Again, Bowen may have been called every name in the book, but he came out 20-5 head-to-head.

To recap: Bowen bent rules like a clown does a balloon animal but made his opponents work harder than necessary to get just their usual averages. And for all their hard work against Bowen, the opponents usually lost — he was a pest, but his rings and 578-295 record speak the most. And that’s what will be remembered the most about the man with the bowtie.

What is your Bowen memory?

Follow Andrew on Twitter at @andrewgreif.

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