Posted: Thursday November 16, 2006 11:15AM; Updated: Friday November 17, 2006 1:43AM
Bruce Bowen (right) has made a career out of pestering top scorers like Dirk Nowitzki.
Marty Burns will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
While the incident itself has blown over (the NBA reviewed the play and determined no penalties were in order), the larger issue about Bowen -- and what constitutes good defense as opposed to dirty play -- remains.
There is no doubt that a player sticking his foot under another player is a good way to throw off a shooter -- and potentially wreck a career. As one Western Conference executive who played in the NBA said: "If you think you're going to land on a [defender's] foot, you're not going to be able to shoot the ball in rhythm. It takes you right out of your follow-through. ... But it's a dangerous play. You can easily get hurt."
Yet the executive refused to say Bowen was doing it intentionally. "I really couldn't say," he said. "I don't know him. I don't know if he was taught or coached or drilled [on how to defend]. But there's no evidence he's doing it intentionally so you have to give him the benefit of the doubt."
Those who do know Bowen say there is no way he would ever try to hurt an opponent. They point to his incredible rags-to-riches tale of a disadvantaged kid who went undrafted out of Cal State Fullerton making it as a key contributor for an NBA champion. They cite his sparkling reputation off the court, his long list of charitable deeds in the community. They also say the Spurs' organization would not tolerate it.
"If anything Bruce is too nice," said a close friend and former NBA teammate of Bowen's who also wished to remain anonymous. "If he were an a------, nobody would say anything about him. They'd be afraid he'd punch them in the face. ... But Bruce isn't like that, so Vince Carter and Ray Allen and Rip Hamilton feel they can say what they want about him.
"But, trust me, I've known Bruce for a long time. There's not a dirty bone in his body."
In some ways Bowen might be a victim of his own success. As one GM pointed out, there are other players who push the envelope defensively -- such as Eric Snow, Raja Bell and Ruben Patterson -- but don't get the same scrutiny. The GM also noted that Bowen defends the other team's top scorer every night, making it more likely he'll be involved in confrontations with high-profile players like Carter or Allen.
The GM went on to raise an interesting statistical argument: Let's say Bowen defends the other team's top scorer each night, and that the scorer attempts 20 shots per game. If Bowen actively contests half those shots, he's looking at 820 times per season (10 shots x 82 games) where he's flying out at his man trying to get a hand in his face. Over the span of five years, that's 4,100 plays.
"How many times has he been accused of [sticking his foot underneath] over that time span? Four or five? Out of [4,000] plays?," the GM notes. "When you look at it like that, it doesn't seem like it's intentional."
Perhaps the best argument in Bowen's defense, however, is that the NBA has never seen fit to punish him. The league has cracked down hard in recent years on fighting and flagrant fouls in a clear effort to eliminate the old justice system in which players took matters into their own hands on the court. Yet so far discipline czar Stu Jackson has seen nothing to warrant any penalty -- though he did phone Bowen on Sunday to warn him to watch his feet in the future.