It's been five years since the last championship ring for the Spurs. The franchise still has faith in the Big Three to win it all one more time. Has it been a good decision?
Bruce Bowen: Yeah, absolutely. I think when you have those players that have been together that long, what they do is they enhance other people's game. You look at Danny Green; he had a great season, the best season of his career, but a lot of it was because of the Big Three – Manu, Tim and Tony – being able to understand the game and set guys up to be successful. You look at Kawhi Leonard, who had a fantastic rookie season… You know, when you're able to blend in guys with a core like that, it's not about the egos, it's more about helping the other guys become better. You know, Tim Duncan is no longer the Tim Duncan of five years ago. His role has changed a bit. So if you're able to sustain groups longer, then you have guys that are willing to no longer be the man and do whatever they can in order to help the team.
David Robinson told me recently that the Spurs should have won it last year but the supporting cast failed against the Thunder. Now you have the Thunder with one more year of experience and the Lakers again looking mighty with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash. Do the Spurs have a chance?
BB: I think they will always have the chance to be in the Top 3 of the West. I think it was a telltale situation last year as far as experience winning out over everything else. As Robinson said, the supporting cast of the Spurs didn't have that kind of playoff experience. They weren't really tested in the previous rounds. With the Thunder they needed to do some necessary adjustments. Green and Leonard, they had never been in that position before… It was a little different. In this game you can't just say 'Oh well, next year we'll get it'. You have to take advantage of your opportunities when you have them. And that was a huge opportunity for the Spurs. They just got beat by a younger version of them in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. They are a Big Three, defensive minded, young athletic team. You can't teach youth in the NBA. In essence, the pupil surpassed the teacher.
Will the Spurs regret that missed opportunity down the line?
BB: Well, that last year is in the past. Now you have to try to take advantage of every opportunity you have.
Will the Heat win back-to-back titles?
BB: I've always been this way: Whenever a team wins the championship, I go with that team, because they are the champions. And there's no reason why you wouldn't. But I think the Heat have improved adding Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen. They are going to help them a great deal because now they have dependable three-point shooters to spread the floor. They didn't shoot the ball so well from the three-point line last season, although they did in the Finals. They were fortunate to get hot during the Finals. A lot of people have a problem with what Ray Allen has done as far as leaving the Boston Celtics and going to a rival, so he's going to have to play to the best of his abilities so that he can justify what he's doing.
Who inspired you to be such a great defensive player?
BB: [Laughs] It was the only way to get on the floor in the beginning. Pat Riley, that's where it all started. I thought 'How can I get on the floor? What could I do to make sure that when I'm on the floor he sees a difference in the game?' And that was defense. And from that point, that's what it was all was about for me. I had a role, I accepted that role and I went from there. Sometimes when you rely just on your shooting and you have a bad night, a lot of times you don't play a lot.
Was Riley kind of a father figure for you?
BB: Not necessarily a father figure, but someone that I respected a great deal. I'm a California kid and when he was with the Lakers that was everybody's team. So to see him do so well there and then still have success at the highest level taking the Knicks to the Finals and then taking the Heat to the Finals and winning the title, I think that says a lot about his character and the way he understands the game.
Who was the most difficult player to stop when you were playing?
BB: Michael Jordan, of course. His ability to adjust during the game was incredible. The guy that was up there was Kobe Bryant. He would work hard, I mean, a lot of the guys would quit during the course of the game. They would stop attacking, stop looking for their shot. Whether they would be up 20 or down 20 Kobe would try to compete until the end of the game.
Recently, Jalen Rose admitted he tried to stick his foot when Kobe Bryant took a jump shot during the 2000 Finals between the Lakers and the Pacers. Back in the day the media talked a lot about some similar plays that happened during your career with Steve Francis, Jamal Crawford… Also, there was a statistic that you likely contested around eight hundred shots per year during your 13-year career. What's your take on that?
BB: I can't control what others say or think. The only thing that I can do is control what I do, and I know that for me there was no malicious harm involved, I didn't try to purposely harm someone. It just happened that I was a very aggressive player and those guys that came down on my foot, it was just a byproduct of me being close to them. I never intentionally tried to allow someone to come down on my foot. I came down on people's feet before as well, but I never read anything about that. That happens in the game of basketball. All those All-Stars that I've competed and played against, whenever they started complaining in the media saying that I'm dirty, that just made me feel that much better because I knew I was starting to set up my process as far as limiting them and have them think about something else when they should be focusing on the game.
Like Rodman did.
BB: Yep, absolutely [laughs].
Which of your three NBA titles was the sweetest for you, the one that is more special than the rest?
BB: I've got two. The first one is always the best beause so many have played this game and never got one: Charles Barkley, Karl Malone… These guys are legends of the game and they don't have a championship. And I really like the 2005 title playing against Larry Brown's Pistons. He was like a grandfather for me, he invited me and my family to his house for Thanksgiving dinner. No coach ever did anything like that for me, so that left an impression on me. He was the head coach in San Antonio when Pop [Gregg Popovich] was the GM there. So many circles that are so close together that the '05 championship was the most fulfilling of the three because of Larry Brown.
Did you ever think during your early years as a pro that one day a team like the San Antonio Spurs would retire your jersey?
BB: It's funny because so many times I remember Tony Parker used to talk about it. He was always saying "They have to! We've accomplished so much, they gotta retire our jerseys". I tried to stay in the moment. It was one of the greatest honors that I've ever had in basketball and I'm very much appreciative to the organization and the city of San Antonio for that. I know it was a little different as far as what I did. I think I brought a whole new meaning to the word defense and how necessary it is in order to win championships. So to be recognized for my contribution among my teammates, that was fantastic.
Would you like to be back in the game, to be involved with any NBA team as a coach, executive?
BB: I'm open to anything. I enjoy where am I right now but I think I would like to coach someday. Not right now because I have two young kids, five and seven years of age, and I want to be around them while they are growing up. I don't want that life of a basketball coach/player, because it takes me back to when I played. So maybe when they are in high school or college then I can possibly do something like that. I don't rule out a front office job, I don't rule out anything. I think I have a lot to offer to the young guys.
You're working with initiatives in San Antonio tied to eliminating obesity.
BB: It all started maybe 13 years ago. I wanted to use my celebrity in order to affect something for good, something that I can do even after playing basketball. I can still do things with kids, get them to eat healthier, implement more vegetables during their meals or implement more fruit. We're in a society now where it's videogames, kids don't go outdoors like they used to when I was a kid. So trying to get them outdoors more to do at least sixty minutes of something outside.