Bowen as busy, and defensive, as ever in retirement

By Richard Oliver

In the more than two years since Bruce Bowen retired from the NBA, he’s learned something interesting about life.

Knowing how to play defense still comes in handy.

Bowen, who often left the likes of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen feeling like birthday piñatas during a blue-collar career on the court, has in the months since dealt with divorce, the failure of a headline business and hard lessons about some friends and family reluctant to follow him out of the professional spotlight.

“I had a lot of relationships that have been severed because I’m no longer a basketball player,” said Bowen, 40. “I think one of the most disappointing things for athletes is to be around people and it all changes because the parties are no longer put on by you or the things that you used to do are no longer something that’s of interest because you’re not footing the bill.

“No one wants to be taken advantage of. But you see that it’s part of life. Some people’s elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top.”

Despite those disappointments, Bowen’s elevator continues to rise quite nicely.

One of the architects of three of San Antonio’s four NBA titles, the California native will be inducted into the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame on Feb. 10. Roughly six weeks later, the Spurs will retire Bowen’s No. 12 jersey.

The announcements will serve as exclamation points after a 13-season career that saw Bowen remake himself as a lockdown defender in San Antonio at the tail end of a serpentine journey, which took him from France to the CBA to brief NBA stopovers in Miami, Boston and Philadelphia.

“He had one tool that really worked for him and that was his work ethic,” good friend Sean Elliott said. “And that’s a talent, and I don’t think a lot of people understand that. He worked until he became a great 3-point shooter, and the way he worked on the defensive end is just really a testament to who he is as a person.”

Added Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich of Bowen: “There was no Sean Elliott shot, with his toes out of bounds. Bruce was more (one) of those steady factors, where he did the same thing night in and night out, whether it was a preseason game or a championship game. That’s just who he was.”

It’s a tenacity that serves Bowen well these days. When not heading to ESPN’s studios in Bristol, Conn., for camera time as an NBA analyst — always wearing a signature bow tie — the ex-player concentrates on his charity and promotional work closer to home.

And, whenever possible, a blossoming passion for golf.

“We went golfing early on, and Bruce would see me throw fits on the golf course and he’d say, ‘Man, you’ve got to relax out here, it’s all fun,’?” Elliott said. “This was when Bruce was really wet behind the ears, a virgin golfer. The last two or three times I’ve been out with Bruce, he’ll hit a bad shot and I’ll see him mumble to himself and I’m like, ‘Yeah, he’s starting to get it.’ It was only a matter of time. You can’t play defense in golf.”

It’s all part of the adjustment for Bowen, whose signature sense of humor is still as much a part of his game plan as being approachable for fans.

Sitting at a popular breakfast joint on a recent morning, Bowen was dismayed when a part of his meal spilled onto his lap.

“I just dropped butter on my leg,” he said, shaking his head. “Back in the day, (Spurs athletic trainer) Will Sevening would be right there, on the spot. Hey, Will, take care of this.”

Indeed, times have changed for the genial Bowen. His divorce from Yardley was finalized earlier this month, and the couple will share custody of sons Ojani, 6, and Ozmel, 4. Their upscale salon was shuttered last year.

The chapters of Bowen’s life keep turning, and he relies on his faith and an eternal optimism as he looks ahead.

“The greatest teacher in life is experience,” he said. “There’s more and more things that I want to do here. I love the city. I love the fact that my kids get a chance to see me do something other than basketball. The fact that they get to see me doing the things that I do now is more important to me and more special than when I was playing.”

Next month, they’ll get to see their dad be inducted into the Hall of Fame. A plaque with his likeness will soon hang at the Alamodome, and Bowen, bald for years, admits he has one hope for it.

“Maybe they can put hair on it,” he said.


What: 2012 San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame Tribute

Who: Stan Bonewitz, Bruce Bowen, David Hill, Leticia? Morales-Bissaro, John Russell

When: Feb. 10 (6 p.m., cocktails and silent auction; 8 p.m., dinner and induction ceremony)

Where: Alamodome

Tickets: Individual for $165;? tables for $1,500, $2,500, $5,000 (eight seats) and $10,000 (10 seats). Reservations can be made online or by calling 210-820-2109.



Age: 40, born in Merced, Calif.

Fast facts: Journeyman had played on several foreign teams, along with Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat before finding home — and fame — with Spurs. … In San Antonio developed into one of game’s most respected perimeter defenders, earning eight selections on NBA All-Defensive first or second teams … Considered face of lockdown Spurs defense during title runs in 2003, 2005 and 2007 … Now serves as ESPN analyst on network’s NBA crew when not working with charity initiatives in San Antonio tied to eliminating obesity.


Jan. 8: Russell
Jan. 15: Bonewitz
Jan. 21: Morales-Bissaro
Today: Bowen
Feb. 5: Hill

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