Bruce Eric Bowen Jr. (born June 14, 1971) is an American former professional basketball player. Bowen played small forward and graduated from Edison High School and Cal State Fullerton. He went on to play for the National Basketball Association’s Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, San Antonio Spurs and the Continental Basketball Association’s Rockford Lightning, and also played abroad in France.
One of the most feared perimeter “lockdown” defenders in NBA history, Bowen was elected to the NBA All-Defensive First and Second Teams eight times, and was a member of the Spurs teams that won the NBA championships in 2003, 2005 and 2007. Off the court, Bowen became an informal ambassador for child obesity awareness. He currently works as an analyst for ESPN.
After finishing his four-year college eligibility, Bowen was eligible for the 1993 NBA draft, but went undrafted. Instead, he seemed to be destined to become a journeyman athlete. Between 1993 and 1997, Bowen played for five different teams, starting his professional career for the French teams of Le Havre in 1993–94 and Évreux the following season. In 1995–96 he played in the CBA with Rockford Lightning; he spent the next season back in France with Besançon, before returning to the Lightning in February 1997. Bowen made his NBA debut when he was signed to a ten-day contract by the Miami Heat the following month. His output consisted of 1 game, 1 minute and 1 block. In the 1997–98 NBA season, Bowen reappeared in the NBA, having been signed by the Boston Celtics. In the 1999–2000 NBA season, Bowen signed with the Philadelphia 76ers, and was later traded to the Chicago Bulls and immediately waived, then picked up off waivers by the Miami Heat. In the 2001–02 NBA season, Bowen was signed by the San Antonio Spurs. He joined a championship-caliber team, led by veteran Hall-of-Fame center David Robinson and young power forward Tim Duncan, complemented by talented role players like Steve Smith, Malik Rose, Antonio Daniels and point guards Terry Porter and Tony Parker.
In the next season, Bowen started in all 82 regular season games for the second time in his career and averaged 7.1 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 31.3 minutes per game. Again, he was voted into the All-Defensive Second Team and was a member of the Spurs team which won the 2003 NBA Finals. At age 31, the one-time journeyman Bowen had won his first championship ring as a starter. In the following three seasons, Bowen established a reputation as one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, earning three straight All-Defensive First Team elections and ending as runner-up in the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award votings twice, losing to post defender Ben Wallace.
Bowen and the Spurs bounced back and won the NBA title in 2005, defeating the Detroit Pistons. The Spurs could not win back-to-back titles, however, and bowed out 4–3 in a seven-game series against the Dallas Mavericks in the 2006 NBA Playoffs. As a testament to his controversial style of play, Bowen picked up a $10,000 NBA fine for kicking Ray Allen in the back during a March 2006 game.
In the 2007 NBA Playoffs, the Spurs played against the Phoenix Suns, and Bowen became the center of controversy. His knee contacted Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash’s groin, knocking Nash to the floor. Also in that series, forward–center Amar’e Stoudemire accused Bowen of kicking him during a game, but the NBA reviewed and dismissed the claim. ESPN columnist Bill Simmons commented that Bowen was “a cheap player who’s going to seriously hurt someone someday”, but Simmons also acknowledged that Bowen “ultimately makes his team better.” The Spurs went on to beat the Suns, and Bowen’s defense contributed to the Spurs winning their fourth championship in the 2007 NBA Finals.
The 2008–09 NBA season was to be Bowen’s last with the Spurs. Although he played in 80 regular season games, he was no longer a starter as was the case in the previous seven San Antonio campaigns. His minutes were also greatly reduced (from 30+ to 18.9 per game), although his shooting numbers remained consistent. The Spurs went into the 2009 NBA Playoffs with a 54–28 record and as the third seed. With influential shooting guard Manu Ginóbili out injured, the Spurs got off to a bad start to the series and eventually lost 4–1 against the Dallas Mavericks, bowing out of the playoffs in the first round for the first time since 2000.
On June 23, 2009, Bowen was traded along with Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto to the Milwaukee Bucks for Richard Jefferson. He was released on July 31, 2009 and retired on September 3, 2009.
On March 21, 2012, the Spurs retired Bowen’s #12 jersey. Bowen’s jersey is the seventh retired by the Spurs. With Bowen’s blessing, the Spurs unretired the number 12 for incoming free agent LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015.
Career highlights and awards
3× NBA champion (2003, 2005, 2007)
5× NBA All-Defensive First Team (2004–2008)
3× NBA All-Defensive Second Team (2001–2003)
No. 12 retired by San Antonio Spurs