Within the first minute of his NBA debut last March 16, guard Bruce
Bowen had reason to believe his future in the league was bright. In the
middle of a game against the Rockets on NBC, Bowen, who just two days
earlier had been called up from the CBA by the Heat, heard coach Pat
Riley bark his name, so he bounded off the bench, nervously fumbled
with his warmups and sprinted onto the court. When Sedale Threatt drove
to the hole, the 6'7", 200-pound Bowen swatted his shot away. "My
family was watching back home in California," Bowen says. "Greg Gumbel
was doing the game, and he said, 'It's a blocked shot by...by...'and
then he stopped, because he had no idea who I was."
No wonder. Although Bowen scored 1,133 points in his four seasons at
Cal State-Fullerton, he didn't receive an invitation to any of the
NBA's postseason camps, and no team picked him in the 1993 draft. After
playing in France, Bowen, 26, then spent two seasons in the CBA,
putting up the kind of modest numbers (12.7 points a game) that usually
spell doom for an NBA aspirant.
But when he rejected Threatt's shot on network TV, Bowen was sure his
career was finally going to take off. Instead, Riley sat him down after
only 33 seconds and didn't put him back in for the rest of the season.
The Heat's rotation was set, and because Riley liked the potential
Bowen showed for slowing down big shooting guards, he wanted to keep
him under wraps until he could sign him to a deal for 1997-98. "I
thought that was my break," Bowen says, "then I wasn't even on the
Riley's plan to retain Bowen began to unravel last May when Celtics
president-coach Rick Pitino hired Miami director of player personnel
Chris Wallace as his general manager. "Rick and I were talking about
how he needed some shock troops who could play his up-tempo, defensive
style," says Wallace. "I told him, 'You know, there's a guy like that
in Miami.' "
Bowen agreed to work out for the Celtics. That single session convinced
Pitino that Bowen had the defensive energy he was seeking. While the
Heat offered Bowen a nonguaranteed contract, Boston gave him a
guaranteed one-year, $430,000 deal with a team option for the second
year. Although he still hasn't developed a consistent NBA jumper, Bowen
has thrived in Pitino's frenetic scheme. He has started nine games,
averaging 6.6 points and 22.8 minutes, and has 47 steals. Pitino
recently said that he envisions Bowen being part of the Celtics "for
another 10 years."
"He's done even more than I thought," says Wallace. "I think there are
more Bruce Bowens out there. The moon and the stars have to be aligned
properly for guys like him. But all they need is the opportunity to
show they belong."