The Associated Press
SAN ANTONIO — In his more than 10 years in the league, San Antonio’s Bruce Bowen has seen plenty of impressive players and breakout performances — most of them just a few inches from his face.
So when his matchup with LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers is billed as the top confrontation to watch in the upcoming NBA Finals, Bowen is neither fazed nor impressed.
“The No. 1 assignment in the league?” Bowen repeated back when asked about guarding James. “That’s your opinion, that’s your opinion. ... There’s a lot of other scorers in this league, too.”
The Spurs’ Bowen, who turns 36 on June 14, has been voted to the NBA All-Defensive team the last seven years and was selected for the first team the last four. He’s been runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year the last three years.
The 6-foot-7, 200-pound Bowen will likely get much of the time against the 6-8, 240-pound James, who scored a career playoff high 48 points in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Detroit.
Since then, James’s offensive prowess has dominated most talk about the finals. But Bowen isn’t necessarily buying into it, especially not when the finals start Thursday in San Antonio.
“I think Michael Jordan’s
60-something points in Boston was incredible. Now do I think it got this much media coverage? No. Did it deserve it? You could say it did,” Bowen said. “Magic Johnson, his rookie year in the NBA, the show he put on in Philly. That is huge. But it goes to show you that if you’re not playing anymore, it’s, ‘OK, well, we’re looking for the next best thing.’
“I think it was impressive what he did, and going through my mind, it’s nothing, because I’m not there, I’m not a Detroit Piston, I’m just watching the game as an avid fan,” Bowen added.
But don’t get Bowen wrong. It’s not as if he hasn’t taken notice of James’ skills.
“It’s a matter of him being their foundation, their go-to guy, and he’s going to do that night-in and night-out, and it’s important for us to come with our hard hats and be ready to play,” Bowen said.
Bowen is used to the position he’ll be in for the next couple weeks. As a defender who doesn’t always put up the big numbers of Spurs teammates Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, Bowen is often seen as the antagonist to favorites like Steve Nash and Allen Iverson.
“Everyone has an opinion. And I can’t allow other’s opinions to affect who I am or what I do,” Bowen said.
Some of those opinions have been unfavorable. During this season’s playoffs, Phoenix’s Amare Stoudemire said Bowen purposely kicked him on the court during Game 2. Bowen said he “did clip him, but to kick him, that wasn’t the intention at all.”
Bowen was part of another mini-controversy in the same series after he kneed Nash in the groin area during Game 3. Nash said Bowen told him the move was unintentional, but the foul originally called on the play was later upgraded to a “flagrant foul 1.”
“Bruce is a nice guy, a good guy. Despite what everyone says, Bruce is a great individual,” Michael Finley said. “He’s not ... a dirty player, none of those things. He’s a competitor.”
Bowen doesn’t balk at the criticism he gets, nor at the task of guarding James.
“I never play defense saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got Tim behind me,’” Bowen said. “I think that’s the error some people may make when it comes to having a big man or taking the challenge upon yourself.”
Still, Bowen’s teammates and coach want him to know he’s not out there by himself against James.
“Bruce’s challenge is huge, but he can’t make LeBron work by himself, it’s got to be our team effort,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “Nobody stops LeBron. He’s an unstoppable player. He’s one of those guys in the league that a team has to just work to make him work for what he gets. And it starts with whoever’s going to guard him ... but our team has got to do a good job against him.”