Of course, no player--role or star--operates alone. And if Horry is the do-it-all Swiss Army knife of the team, Bowen is the specialist. There may be no other player in the league who can play 35 minutes, not score a point, pull down only two rebounds (as he did in Game 1 of the Finals against Detroit) and be one of the keys to a game. His defense on Rip Hamilton led Larry Brown to proclaim his performance "phenomenal." This is old hat for Bowen, a two-time first-team All-Defensive honoree. Still, Bowen is routinely dismissed by opponents. After Game 1 of the Finals, Hamilton said it was an off night, not Bowen, that had caused him to shoot 7 for 21. "I got any shot that I wanted," said Hamilton. "I just didn't make them."
Bowen is accustomed to the disrespect, as well as to the idea that defenders are rarely celebrated. Though maybe, he says, that is changing. "It's funny," he said after Game 1, "I was talking to an old coach of mine, and he said that a guard said, 'Yeah, I'm like Bruce Bowen.' Those people who appreciate the game, I think they understand what I do."
On a defense-oriented team like the Spurs, Bowen plays a more vital role than the casual fan may understand. "Bruce sets the tone for our team defensively," says Popovich. "He takes such pride in it, and all of our guys count on him locking up somebody every night."
While Bowen locks down opponents, Mohammed is the Spur doing the dirty work. Thrust into a difficult situation--replacing Spurs hero Malik Rose at midseason and having to learn the San Antonio offense and defensive sets-- Mohammed flourished. Long, lean and deceptively quick, he cleans up the misses, bodies up on opposing centers and plays smart. Says Popovich, "We wouldn't be here without him. He's been fantastic through the playoffs."
Mohammed also fills a vital niche as an outlet for Duncan, a position filled by David Robinson during the Spurs' last title run. When Duncan gets doubled, Mohammed slips to the basket to create an opening. Duncan can then kick it out to the perimeter to a waiting shooter or shovel it inside to Mohammed. "Being a big guy playing alongside [Duncan] makes it even better," says Mohammed, "because he takes the attention and focus of two big guys, so it kind of leaves you by yourself a lot." And when he gets it, Mohammed has no notion about trying anything fancy. "When I get it close enough and people hand it to me, I just try to finish."
San Antonio has been a change for Mohammed. He was a starter in Atlanta, averaging 12.3 points and 9.0 rebounds one season, and was a relative focal point in New York earlier this year, averaging 10.9 and 8.1 and receiving the attention that comes with playing in a big media market. He's very much secondary, if still important, for the Spurs--he averaged 6.2 points and 6.4 rebounds in the regular season--but he's fine with it. "For me it's glamorous," he says.
It is Mohammed who best sums up the appeal of San Antonio for all the role players, whether or not they are celebrated for their contribution. "Winning," says Mohammed, "is glamorous."