Mr. Indispensable (cont.)
Posted: Friday June 8, 2007 7:52PM; Updated: Saturday June 9, 2007 12:25AM
I've long had the impression that Bowen must review gametape after gametape of his opponents, as the best quarterbacks are said to do before big playoff games. "No, I don't study for hours,'' he admits. "I fall asleep studying film. I get tired of it; I don't see how the coaches do it. There's certain things you take from it, then you play after that. That's what it's about.''
He studies intensively until he has a feel for who his opponent is and what he wants to do. By not overloading himself with too much information, Bowen is able to play intuitively, which enables him to remain fresh and alert after all these years. Adding to the dynamic -- and making his job infinitely more interesting -- is his ultimate goal of incorporating his defensive matchup within the larger strategy of the team defense.
Bowen has passively exposed a couple of disappointing truths about the NBA. The first is that most coaches are lying (whether to us or themselves) when they say defense is their priority. If so, then how is it that Bowen -- who has made the last six NBA All-Defensive Teams since joining the Spurs in 2001-02 -- went undrafted in 1996 and spent his first five years bouncing between Europe, the minors and four NBA teams? It's not like his contract demands were prohibitive; even now the Spurs are paying him a frugal $3.8 million this season. But Bowen was always cast aside in pursuit of larger team goals before Popovich married himself to him.
The other disappointment is that Bowen should have won a defensive player of the year award by now. No offense to Marcus Camby, a terrific defender and one of the league's smartest players at that end of the court; but he won the award this year in no small part because his Denver Nuggets were one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA: Their perimeter defense created highways to the basket in contribution to Camby's league-leading 3.3 blocks per game.
If the MVP is awarded to a player from one of the winningest teams, then shouldn't the defensive player award be limited among contributors to the best defensive teams?
Perhaps Bowen can never win because of the long-running accusations of dirty play. The high demands of his team are such that he must err occasionally on the side of physical play. (How's that for a kind way of putting it?)
The more I talk to Bowen, the more I appreciate the counter-intuitive mindset of a star defender. While scorers like Jerry West and Michael Jordan have admitted that they were driven by a fear of failure, or of not wanting to be embarrassed, Bowen maintains the opposite view.
"You can't be afraid to fail at anything in life,'' he says. "That helps with you coming back when people have great games against you. The willingness to be able to compete in situations is what you want in life. I'm happy with the fact that I can always learn from a so-called failing situation. That's the only time you learn is when you went through it and didn't succeed, so now you go back and study for it a little bit more.''
As he spoke Friday after practice, he sounded as if he was preparing for a monstrous response from James. If LeBron goes for 35 in a Cavaliers win Sunday, what is Bowen going to do then? He won't have the time to waste feeling humiliated or sorry for himself. If the Spurs are to win again, he'll have to figure out a new way to contend with the league's next great star.
"There's disappointment,'' he says, "but after the disappointment you have to have that wherewithal in yourself to say, 'Hey, OK, I need to check it out and see what I did wrong.' It's like studying for a test: You get a C, you're not happy with it because you thought you did a great job of studying; then you go back over whatever your notes were, and you see certain things you didn't do, and now for the next test you're prepared.''
It's all about being honest with oneself.
"That's the key,'' he says. "A lot of people have a problem with doing that.''
In Bowen's case, if properly harnessed, that honesty can also be transformed into a passive weapon. Just ask LeBron.