A brief history of scales and feathers

Last time everyone’s favorite DuBoisian off-guard found himself embroiled in some in-game nastiness, he took the high road in the press. Besides, he’d already had the chance to unleash the gulliness that’s a part of any champion’s unconscious; it was time to tend to thinking man’s spin. But when it came time to speak on the latest ungainly brush with the Association’s coarser elements, the man who would be FBP minced no words when the hounds of journalism came 'a callin’:

”I get a lot of that with Kobe Bryant. We go at each other on defense and offense. I can respect that. But when guys start throwing elbows and when they kick you when you’re down, that’s dirty basketball and I don’t respect that.”

“For a split second, when I stood over him, I thought [I might do something] because my emotions were flowing. But I had to catch myself. I wasn’t going to allow him to bait me to where I went at him. I saw him do that to other guys, but I just think that’s coward basketball. I don’t care for that type of basketball. I don’t even call it basketball.”

That’s Allen talking about none other than “The Rash” himself, Bruce Bowen. Herald of all that is unselfish in basketball. Martyr on the offensive end, rising up only to humbly hit the corner three when all other options fail. Defensive stopper, possible heart and soul of the rehabilitated U.S. hoops operations, a man who earns every bit of his NBA paycheck through years of dues paying and has diligently cut his ties with almost all the cast of his troubled upbringing. This is also the guy that at least one other All-Star, the prima donna VC, has charged with employing underhanded, scornful tactics—something that, ironically, no one’s ever accused Ron Ron of.

But whatever I may think of Bowen’s technique, personal life, or reputation, I can’t help but take Allen’s remarks to heart when assessing the Association’s most noble defensive specialist. As in, throughout history, it’s been assumed that scorers, gunners, and other offensive-minded miscreants are incomplete, imbalanced, and possibly immoral players, negligent bastards unwilling to deal with the full responsibilities of the game. Three-point assassins escape the fire and brimstone, but are regarded much like kickers: a necessary evil, only half-there yet without the possibility of amounting to any more. A lack of defense is only acceptable once in a blue moon, as when Nash offsets it with the honorable task of dishing out assists.

The defense-only emperor, however, delights in his limitation, and praise falls around him because of his sacrifice, his willingness to forsake the glees of getting buckets. This is not the same situation as a Ben Wallace, who provides punch at both ends of the floor by means of his generative rebounding presence. Bowen, as Allen rightly hints at, is the mirror-image of the instant offense flake: a scrappy, at times downright ugly, player who seemingly saves all his energy for the defensive end. He refuses to hit free throws out of aw-shucks deference, and his lone contribution to the offensive effort is a smugly formulaic shot that seems to say “if you really require my services, I’ll be hanging out in the corner, where I will probably sink the only thing I’ve ever deigned to practice when I’ve bothered to touch the basketball.”

Am I being petty? Yes. Driven by my blind hatred of the Spurs, which hath lain dormant for so many months? Bien sur, nice person. Mulling over the life and times of Bruce Bowen, however, I am reminded time and time again of Nietzsche’s contention that asceticism is but another form of decadence. If someone like Eddie House or Tony Delk must bear the stigma of not fully grasping the sport of basketball, lacking the maturity to recognize that the pleasure of offense is the right only of those who dig in on defense, then Bowen’s humility is no less narcissistic and deplorable. A glutton for punishment, hard work, and self-effacement, he denies his team a two-way contribution to prove what a steadfast citizen he is. In the process, though, he forfeits his credibility with the true giants of this league, the men for whom multi-dimensionality, however imperfect, is the precondition for real competition. Bowen might go at Allen hard, but unless he’s willing to open himself up to the same treatment, he’s just a bitch hiding when it’s time to show and prove—or taste it like he dishes it out.

Mind you, I understand full well that players have roles. And that on the basketball court, all men are not created equal. But rivalry, bitter or otherwise, must be rooted in some permutation of respect, as must any willfully intense face-off. The example of Kobe and Ray Ray, who have had their differences, is apt: when two master athletes get locked into a duel, limits sometimes get pushed. The thing is, if you don’t have the clout to go there, or an innate understanding of the dynamic between the two ends of the floor, then cutting those corners is a slap in the face of all that makes basketball a game in tune with the vicissitudes of the human soul. It is knotted foil, mangled glue, and clanking plates where once a sea monster rested.


At 3/28/2006 12:39 AM, Blogger Pooh said...


You killed this one. The thing about Bowen (aside from the undercutting, which is staright up bullshit) that makes him unacceptable is the FT's.

At 3/28/2006 1:02 AM, Blogger mutoni said...

Bowen is a bastard with absolutely no redeeming qualities. At least Lambeer could step out and shoot some threes and grab a board or two.

Nice post, by the way.

At 3/28/2006 1:08 AM, Anonymous Jimbo said...

Original and interesting points, but I don't agree:

Many effective offenses have one, maybe two guys getting most of the action; a good defense on the other hand requires four or five at least solid defenders. Offensively, it's often a good thing to have guys that don't yearn for the ball, as long as they can hit the side of a barn from time to time. Defensively, you need everyone to want to be involved.

Imagine a defensive unit of, say, Kobe, Bowen, Artest, KG and Duncan. Now imagine an offensive unit of Iverson, Kobe, T-Mac, Dirk, and Shaq. The first would be all over an offense like a dirty shirt. The second - well maybe they could control their egos and play well together. But then at least some of them would have to stop being superstar offensive players, wouldn't they? You can have five stars on defense but not five (or four, or three) on offense, and that's why an outstanding defender with limited interest in offense is valuable.

This not to mention that hitting the corner three at 43% is a significant contribution to the offense in itself. You don't think most teams want a guy that can do that? (Lebron, maybe?) In this context your distinction of Bowen from B. Wallace is not valid - I don't think that you established that Wallace's O boards are more significant that Bowen's 3 point accuracy.

A guy who doesn't play much offense isn't necessarily a liability offensively - in fact he is often an essential part of a winning team (as long as he can do SOMETHING when calle upon). A guy who doesn't play much defense always is. There's only a certain amount of offense to go around, and feeding the right characters is crucial. But there's always enough defense to feed everyone who wants a piece...

(**Disclaimer - I was a San An supporter before freedarko was a twinkling in Shoals' eye.)

At 3/28/2006 1:13 AM, Anonymous Jimbo said...

In addendum: I shouldn't have said 'subjugate their egos'. I'm not suggesting that the impossibility of five stars on offense has anything to do with the players' personalities; it's just the nature of offense.

(P.S. My word verification for this comment is NOWXGVI, no shit. You reckon the big German is somehow controlling free darko.com and trying to tell me to lay off him and his fellow gunners?)

At 3/28/2006 1:21 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

my point stands that bowen is a horrendously incomplete player, and that being the guy who can't/won't do much on offense has to affect the way one's defense gets viewed. especially, no legit two-way star is going to pull the crap bowen does as a matter of course--only a real basketball player, one that counts anywhere on the floor, knows how to play real defense. defense with honor. while far too many people seem to believe that there's honor in bowen's chosen path.

why is artest such a phenomenal defender? he understands scoring, and doesn't have to resort to blunt objects to work against it. garnett can defend any position because he can play all five. kobe's desire to stop the best scorer opposite him is an extension of wanting to be the best scorer on the court.

if there is such a thing as defense "the right way," or purism about this aspect of the game, it lies in artest, duncan, kobe, kg, etc. not in bowen's desperate, "anything for a stop" histrionics.

but i'm sure i'm repeating myself already.

At 3/28/2006 2:24 AM, Anonymous Mr. Six said...

I cannot but agree and add ... fuck Bruce Bowen. He's one of the league's camels. Perhaps his game does not relect him as a person, but his game is sick. By which I mean ill. By which I mean diseased, leprous, and spreading.

He's among the reasons that I find the Spurs unwatchable. The motor-mouthed morons who make up the background noise of the game and who have naught but praise for this dromedary don't help. Their myopia permits only one brand of unidemensionality. But they're only a symptom. The success of the Bruce Bactrian ilk on the individul and team levels is what makes me most afraid for the health of the game.

And to keep it on a Nietzsche éperon, perhaps the site's motto should be changed to "Transvaluing professional basketball values since 1968."

At 3/28/2006 11:06 AM, Anonymous Tinns said...

But still if you don't get off watching Bowen put the clamps on the likes of Marion (!) Nowitski (!!) like only one other guy in the whole league can do than you're just dumb. (Not to mention making girls like Gay Allen and Wince cry.) The NBA is a league of specialization, unless you believe that there are only 5 or 6 "pure" players (which I guess means superstars) in the league. How come Gilbert and (especially) AI's non-interest in defence isn't so "horrendous"? Jimbo, biases and all, tore this piece up and the discussion should have ended there.

(although undercutting is the slimiest play in all of basketball, if only because the inevitability of ankle spains is the Game's one great weakness, one which all players on all levels should be working against, cause it fucking hurts and makes your stomach feel sick, especially when your wearing Simple's)

At 3/28/2006 11:24 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...


this wasn't about whether iveron and arenas deserve to be seen as complete, but how preposterous it is that bowen gets held up as some avatar of basketball in its ideal form.

abject specialization is what it is, but it's certainly not something to aspire to or admire. and while iverson and arenas aren't world-class defenders, they're hardly on bowen's level of disengagement. name me two guys better at picking off errants passes before an offense settles into the half-court. and remember arenas's block against the bulls last playoffs?

we're not talking about whether or not players have good nights against bowen, but whether or not his defense is consistent with the way the good lord wants his favorite sport cast in iron.

and fuck all this hating on vince. if you really think that this sport would have been better off without vince carter, you're the dumb one.

it's raining like a motherfucker here and i sound like a broiled shrimp.

At 3/28/2006 11:25 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i have no idea why anyone who enjoys bruce bowen's contribution to the sport would be reading this blog in the first place.

At 3/28/2006 12:06 PM, Anonymous T. said...

Bowen's at least a -20 on the FreeDarko scale.

Actually, not for the defense thing - I don't really care much for or against that - but the undercutting, the kicking, the grabbing; that's the stuff I don't like - I learned to play defense by watching the player Bowen wishes he was - Michael Cooper. Legs, footwork and knowing what flavor gum your opponent is chewing.

At 3/28/2006 12:12 PM, Anonymous Tinns said...

Look, I live in Toronto and have watched about 70 Craptors games a year since they came into the L, so I feel I have a certain right to hate on Vince. It's all a little sickening, as I'm sure anyone could understand.

And OK, beneath the vitriol I see that your piece is only trying chop Bowen down a few pegs. He ain't Arenas, he's a specialist, so let's refer to him like one. I mean, nobody used to talk about Dell Curry like they do about Bowen. Fine.

But specialization is a "quirk", and you guys on this blog and presumably its readers like these quirks. Bowen's ability to defend Marion is freakish in a way that is similar (think about it) to all the other freakish things that some of you folks like to wax about. And if I felt like it, I bet I could make a pretty persuasive argument that Bowen and Vince have both contributed positively and poisonously to our beloved league. (It's just that Vince showed us so much and brought us so much--and then fucked us good. It's like living in Greek tragedy for the last ten years (and it's still oing on with every buzzer beater he hits in the ACC))

At 3/28/2006 12:27 PM, Anonymous Aaron said...

When FD defends Marion, it's in praise of his unique quirks, which are also his weaknesses. One could argue that this was in fact FD singing the praises of Bowen. That this was Shoals finding the Free Darko in the player who is one of the least FD players in the league.

As a guy who grew up as an early '90s Knicks fan, I have a certain grudging respect for guys like Bowen. I have more fun watching a Showtimey game, but I recognize that the dirty defensive tricks are a valid and legitimate way of playing good basketball. If this is a league where teams and players stake out identities for themselves, I see nothing wrong with a team or a player staking out an identity as the dirty defensive team. We've had to settle for the Larry Brown Pistons as the avatar of that since the disappearance of the Riley Knicks and the Bad Boys, and... that sucks.

At 3/28/2006 12:32 PM, Blogger mutoni said...

"i have no idea why anyone who enjoys bruce bowen's contribution to the sport would be reading this blog in the first place." (Shoals)

Salient point.

Re: Tinns

Look, I followed VC's exploits in Toronto along with the other 7 ball fans in Canada, and really, I can't blame him for leaving. Management wasn't doing a damn thing to improve that sorry-ass team (and to make things worse, they lied to him about his involvement in personel decisions) and he had every right to bolt. Of course, the way he went about it was despicable, but it doesn't take away from his greatness on the court (when he feels like being great).

There's nothing great or inspiring about Bowen. His cheapshots and maliciousness take away from any stellar defense he may play on any given night.

At 3/28/2006 12:49 PM, Anonymous Tinns said...

mutoni: It was just the way it all went down (I'm not one of those idiots who still boos Stoudamire and Camby and McGrady and whoever else). Why any American superstar would want to play in another country is beyond me and I couldn't believe when he signed his contract in the first place. But I mean, when you basically love someone and then it happens like that, and it's happening to you. Vince is the shit, that's all there is to it. A god on the court, it's all just too bad is all. (And he does wince a lot.)

At 3/28/2006 12:56 PM, Blogger Brickowski said...

shoals, you know i have immense respect for your basketball knowledge, but i think you get a little carried away when it comes to all things spur.

bowen's goody-two-shoes steez annoys the hell out of me, and i won't try to deny that he's dirty. but i do think it's important to consider the source of the complaints about him.

kobe and t-mac are both on record as saying that a) bruce is the best defensive player they've gone up against, b) they enjoy competing against him, and c) he's not dirty.

kobe vs ray
t-mac vince

just sayin...

i've said it before, but i really think it's problematic when you imply that bowen did something wrong by cutting ties with his crackhead parents. that shit has nothing to do with being "diligent." and besides, who knows what Bowen's childhood was really like? i saw a 4 minute halftime special during last year's Finals that briefly mentioned his parents' addiction. i'm assuming you're basing your statment on the same thing. if it's unfair for us to speculate about the relationship between stevie and mobley based on a few articles about them buying belts together, then surely it's unfair to criticize bowen based on a haltime show.

At 3/28/2006 1:12 PM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...

on Jimbo's point...
i think Wallace's offensive boards are definitely a more valuable offensive contribution than bowen's 3-pt %. what wallace gives you is almost 4 extra possesions a game. that's huge, especially for a team like the pistons. yeah, bowen is an accurate shot from behind the line, but he doesn't shoot that much. he's not a 3-point specialist like, say, Korver.
and from an entirely subjective standpoint, i have much more respect for offensive rebounding than 3-pt accuracy. after all, the point of this whole discussion isn't so much whether bowen contributes anything on offense, but whether his contribution isn't entirely a function of his waiting-to-play defense. 3-pt shooting is perfect for a game built around defensive cherry picking - low energy, easy to get back in transition, etc. you just can't say that about offensive boards.

as for freakishly specialized defensive being an FD-worthy trait...
i think the key emphasis here is specialized. what's annoying about Bowen's D is that it seems so perfectly tailored for both the physical and ideological discipline of both Association and Team - a discipline against which freakishness should be defined, not accommodated. compare this to someone like Rodman. yeah, he was "specialized", but it was to a league and a God that was entirely his own.

At 3/28/2006 1:17 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

there was that article on bowen in the espn mag last year where he just seemed so fucking callous about everyone he came up with, his right to cut them off, and how much better he was for it. i don't question that bowen's childhoos was a mess, and that plenty of unsavory characters popping up asking for money is not something a millionaire needs. but compare this with iverson or garnett's ceaseless devotion to neighborhood fam, or juan dixon, whose entire basketball career has been a tribute to his junkie parents, both dead of AIDS before he turned eighteen.

i don't know bowen or his relatives or his old friends personally. but there is something vaguely spooky about it when you compare it to this piece on dixon


At 3/28/2006 1:20 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

freak attribute is hardly akin to deliberate, single-minded cultivation. in fact, i would argue that the most fd of freakish attitribute are those that seem almost unnecessary, e.g. shot blocking guards, passing big men.

At 3/28/2006 2:00 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

as for freakishly specialized defensive being an FD-worthy trait...
i think the key emphasis here is specialized. what's annoying about Bowen's D is that it seems so perfectly tailored for both the physical and ideological discipline of both Association and Team - a discipline against which freakishness should be defined, not accommodated. compare this to someone like Rodman. yeah, he was "specialized", but it was to a league and a God that was entirely his own.


At 3/28/2006 2:13 PM, Blogger Ken said...

I've said it before but I bet if Bowen was in the Bloods like Stephen Jackson you'd like him a lot more.

And having degenerate parents that love you is a whole different thing than having ones that abandoned you. Just because Juan Dixon and Bowen had effed up parents doesn't mean they had similar situations.

At 3/28/2006 2:21 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

junkies don't really register as human presence in the same way as non-zombified people

and besides,

"Through their love, they showed us how to love. They never once abandoned us. They always placed us in the arms of an aunt or grandmother or cousin. Whenever they disappeared, we knew they'd come back."

seems like splitting hairs to say that dixon wasn't abandoned.

and jackson makes me profoundly uncomfortable.

At 3/28/2006 2:53 PM, Blogger Brickowski said...

i think shoals' distinction between wallace and bowen is pretty absurd in a protest too much kind of way. fine, ben gets 3 more offensive boards a game than bowen. is that notably more valuable than a guy who's one of the best 3Ball shots around (6th in the league) and stretches the defense? i guess it depends on the team, but i think we'd all agree that bowen's a perfect fit for the spurs. duncan, manu and tony are good for a combined 70 a night, and you still have finley, barry, horry, nazr, etc. i'd rather have bruce as is than a bruce who demanded the ball on offense.

but it just seems obvious to me that Ben and Bruce are cut from the same cloth. two guys from small schools who would likely be journeymen playing around the world if they hadn't dedicated themselves to becoming perennial All-Defense first-teamers on championship squads. and silverbird, isn't Ben's contirbution on offense also "entirely a function of his waiting-to-play defense?" he's not asked to do anything on offense that would put him out of position to get offensive boards. i mean, he'll run the occassional pick and roll oop with rip, but he can generally focus on crashing the glass.

i have a problem with criticizing people trying to survive, be it NOLA looters or dudes slinging the white, and that's kind of what this feels like to me. bowen's parents sold his toys and the family TV to pay for their habits. that's fucked up and i can't blame him for cutting them of if that's what he needed to do to make a life for himself. similarly, he wasn't blessed with Vince's god given hops and has been forced to adapt. he plays the game he does because it's the only way he can be an NBA starter.

while i personally think it's amazing that one man can lock down guys as diverse in both size and ability as Iverson, Kobe, Dirk and Marion, i understand that bowen's game isn't stylish. i get that he's sometimes dirty, and were i a fan of an opposing team, i probably would hate the guy the same way i used to hate stockton (who had the dirty nice guy game on lock before bowen ever entered the league).

but i think there's something to be said for a guy who's willed himself into relevance, especially in a post that invokes nietzsche. and i ask you, is there a better example in the league of someone pulling themselves "up into existence by the hair, out of the swamps of nothingness?"

At 3/28/2006 3:00 PM, Blogger Ken said...

Are you quoting Dixon? If Dixon doesn't think he was abandoned and he felt loved then that's whose opinion matters right? Hence the love for his junkie parents.

Bowen does think he was abandoned. Neglect is absolutely one of the most psychologically damaging things a parent can do to one of their children. Bowen thinks he was abandoned, Dixon does not.

At 3/28/2006 3:25 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

let me try this another way: does anyone actually enjoy defending bowen? isn't he kind of tailor-made for petty, accidentally epic, villianry in a mcveigh kind of way? talk about willing yourself into being through a single, cataclysmic trajectory. . .

that's where i'm coming from, and why i go to such great lengths to deny him any humanity.

and why, to me, him and ben wallace are night and day.

At 3/28/2006 3:26 PM, Blogger ForEvers Burns said...

Fascinating discussion so far.

As has been remarked before, Bowen isn’t a defense specialist because of some kind of altruistic tendency on his part or any conscious decision to make sacrifices for the good of his team. Bowen’s skill set (or lack thereof with regard to offense) requires him to become a defensive-minded player. Lacking offensive talent, Bowen had no choice but to focus all his energy on defense if he were to become anything other than the most marginal of players. If you can’t dribble, simply trying harder isn’t going to do much. Defensive performance correlates most strongly with exertion (compared to other categories), so by focusing exclusively on defense, Bowen maximizes his meager talent and thus becomes a useful player. It’s insane to laud him as some kind of consummate teammate when in reality, he’s just doing what he needs to in order to be a serviceable player and get paid.

What bothers me about Bowen is that he’s receiving credit (specifically credit from the types that start sentences with “kids today . . .”) that really deserves to go to the Spurs organization. Not many teams could integrate a player whose major offensive contribution is to stand in a corner, conserve his energy, and wait. Still he’s undeniably valuable to the Spurs. If he were to change teams, Bowen’s value would decrease dramatically; how much good would he do the Suns, Pacers, Nuggets, Grizzlies, etc? I’m not saying the Spurs designed their system to maximize his contribution to it, but rather they recognized exactly what they needed and they managed to get it for a paltry (relatively speaking) three million a year.

The Spurs didn’t go out and overspend on the best available player; they recognized that they could make excellent use of a player incapable of playing anything other than defense (something he manages to do very well). The praise heaped upon Bowen should really largely be directed towards the shrewd management of the Spurs, but it isn't, which I think makes him such a target in places like FD. In reality, though, it's not Bowen I have a problem with, but with the people who hold him up as everything that's right with the game of basketball.

At 3/28/2006 3:33 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

you could claim that without "the legend of bruce bowen," he wouldn't get away with what he does, and therefore wouldn't be such a wretch.

but yeah, i'm kind of distressed that i've now been reduced to going after his personal business. i hate him on the court and i hate his media-fuelled image. isn't that enough for one day?

and the proposed thought experiment of a team based around bruce bowen might be the funniest thing you've ever come up with.

At 3/28/2006 3:38 PM, Blogger mutoni said...

on a completely unrelated (but infinitely more important) note, there's a rumor going around that Amare is going to be shut down by Phoenix for 10 days and possibly the rest of the season.

You may now commence weeping.

At 3/28/2006 3:44 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i spent a good while cringing this morning when i read that "soreness in both knees" line in today's phoenix paper

At 3/28/2006 3:48 PM, Blogger mutoni said...

i was against him coming back this season, so this is a relief. why take a risk with a potentially career-ending injury for an ultimately misguided (and unrealistic) title run?

At 3/28/2006 4:03 PM, Anonymous Mr. Six said...

I think Brickowski's last paragraph throws the debate somewhat more into relief.

If you see Bowen as a self-overcomer whose made himself relevant through training, consistent effort, maximization of limited talent, and excellence in an area of specialization, then Shoals's post makes no sense.

But Nietzsche also writes of the camel: that hardworking beast of burden who puts in consistent and ever-reliable effort, who does a thankless task with all the excellence that his nature permits, and who is much loved by society for his work. But there is no beauty or presto or dance or self-overcoming in the camel. There is no greatness. There is only the carrying of a load that society has asked him to bear, doing so because there is societal esteem and reward in doing so.

Most of us are camels, I will concede, myself included. And I wish better for those who carry the heaviest and most unjust loads. But I will not mistake the camel for something else, nor will I applaud its existence in an endeavor that I consider to be about more.

At 3/28/2006 4:08 PM, Anonymous T. said...

on a completely unrelated (but infinitely more important) note, there's a rumor going around that Amare is going to be shut down by Phoenix for 10 days and possibly the rest of the season.

You may now commence weeping.

I'm especially weeping, since I traded Paul Pierce for him specifically to make a playoff run.

I'm not very good at Fantasy Sports.

At 3/28/2006 4:13 PM, Blogger Brickowski said...

Burns, I completely agree. And I do think Bowen deserves some of the blame because he does play up the "consumate teammate/role model" angle at times. But I'm frustrated by the notion that there's something wrong about a defensive specialist. This league would be a lot better if more teams found ways to use guys like Bowen and Wallace.

There isn't a day that goes by where I'm not frustrated by this Dalembert situation. I say this in part as a bitter fantasy owner who's seen his team fall apart since Cheeks decided to castrate the shot blocking beast, but also because it just defies all logic. Like, I understand that Hunter is better offensively, but can't Iverson and Webber and Iggy and Korver provide enough scoring? Is there any reason why Young Sam can't be Ben Wallace Deux?

And Shoals, hating Bowen's game and image is totally fine. I think you have ample reason for doing so. I just can't for the life of me see any distinction between Bowen and Ben in terms of being "defensive specialists." I mean, I get that Ben with his biceps, hair, arm bands, and dunking is aesthetically more pleasing, but I can't see how his game isn't also just waiting to play D. All he does is set screens in the low post for Rip to run through (which is basically playing D on offense) leaving himself in perfect position to crash the glass once Rip gets through.

And I don't have any problem with that. I guess I just don't see what's wrong with the notion of "defensive specialist." I mean, this isn't Clemens getting to throw at people behind the protection of the DH.

And I was hoping someone would call me on my incorrect usage of Nietzsche...

At 3/28/2006 4:20 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

you could claim that without "the legend of bruce bowen," he wouldn't get away with what he does, and therefore wouldn't be such a wretch.

Absofrigginlutely, there is not an iota of difference between him and Trenton Hassel (save for Hassel's greater talent and lesser recognition), yet Hassel would be suspended for 3 games if he pulled half the shit that Bowen does on a Gamely basis. I admit, that much of my hatred of Bowen comes from my own limited exploits as a chucker - if there was one move which would start shit every time it was walking under the legs of a jump shooter - it's chickenshit, and serves no purpose other than to put the legit fear of injury into a player. If Big Ben puts you on your ass, well you put yourself in a position to get put on your ass, be a man. Undercutting is just an admission that he can't stay with you to contest the shot, so he'll make you afraid to shoot my going Jeff Gillooly on your ankles if you try.


At 3/28/2006 4:21 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

the thing that makes my position especially goofy is that my favorite ben wallace was circa 2002, when they had no front line and he basically had to guard three people at once. those were the days of the immortal 6/18/3/8 lines, when watching him defend was the same feeling of dominance you get watching iverson score. maybe it comes down to the fact that everyone should be guarding their man and trying to score, but you can cut a guy a little slack if he's pulling down fourteen boards a game, manning up 3-5, helping out anywhere near the lane, and is a consatnt threat to block a shot or engineer a steal. then, and only then, is offense negligible.

and no one can possible understand how happy it made me to finally see these words all together at last, regardless of context:

"Shoals's post makes no sense."

At 3/28/2006 4:31 PM, Blogger Brickowski said...

Mr. Six, just to be clear, I'm not mistaking Bowen for something he's not. You'll never catch me writing a post that celebrates his game, and if it were up to me he wouldn't make the olympic squad. I'm just saying that it seems unfair to hate on the guy for shit that he can't help.

Nietzsche actually uses that bit about "swamps of nothingness" to deny freedom of the will. It's preceded by some shit about how we can't absolve god, luck, society or family from our actions.

At 3/28/2006 4:46 PM, Anonymous Mr. Six said...

brickowski: I didn't really think you were making that mistake. My apologies if I was unclear. My point (I think) was that one's conclusions about are largely a matter of perspective (another Nietzsche-ism), and that one can appreciate all of Bowen's work without concluding that his effort equates with excellence.

I wasn't previously willing to make that much of a distinction between Ben and Bruce, but Shoal's last shot at it has, I think, brought useful locus to the discussion: although Ben might very well now be rightly accused of reducing his game to waiting-to-play defense, his legend was made on more than that. He didn't just play the role of "defensive specialist" (i.e. camel, at least to me), he tried to do something original with what it meant to focus on defense because of limited offensive talent. I have never seen that type of effort at originality from Bowen.

At 3/28/2006 4:48 PM, Blogger Brickowski said...

alright, shoals, i've bitched enough for the day. this is the part of the show when the family reconciles.

i refrained from saying this the other day, since it's excessively complimentary and akin to telling someone they have the physique of a greek god, but since i made you suffer through a defense of bowen i think it's the least i can do.

the other day in the discussion about ghost you said:

"he still may not always make sense, and no doubt the personae is erratic and weird, but you get the feeling that there's a reason for all of it."

and my first thought was, "that's how i feel about shoals."

At 3/28/2006 4:55 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...


At 3/28/2006 6:41 PM, Anonymous Jimbo said...

Hugggggggggzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!!!!!!!! This has been a good talk.

Ok let me throw one more thing out there. Does anyone remember Dikembe toward the end of his career (I know he's still playing, but the end of his career began about five years ago, IMHO) and how he still played solid interior defense and could rebound, but was a total liability offensively, even though he could still pull down some O boards? Like his heavy feet actually compromised his team's ability to run its offensive sets? (I think it was his time with the J-Kidd and the Nets, which makes sense).

Anyway, that was a defensive specialist who actually hurt his team on offense. You wouldn't say Bowen hurts his team offensively would you? Or is it only that he doesn't hurt the Spurs offensively?

N.B. My points relate to the concept of the offensively limited defensive specialist generally and don't have to do with undercutting and that type of thing. Mind you, if I came from a bad bad place and had millions of dollars to gain, I might do it to. Especially against someone as (apparently) clean and shiny as Ray Allen. And definitly Vince.

P.S. I just noticed on NBA.com that B. Bowen has been fined $10,000 for kicking Ray Ray in the back.

At 3/28/2006 7:59 PM, Anonymous T. said...

Does anyone remember Dikembe toward the end of his career (I know he's still playing, but the end of his career began about five years ago, IMHO) and how he still played solid interior defense and could rebound, but was a total liability offensively, even though he could still pull down some O boards? Like his heavy feet actually compromised his team's ability to run its offensive sets?

As someone who watches every Rockets game - this still describes Deke's game. (Yeah he had some "isn't he retired already" moments there with the Nets and knicks - but he was rejuvinated last season - and played really well backing up Yao Ming).

One of the bigger reasons that the Rockets have had such a wretched season - aside from the injuries - but there'a lack of a viable back up for Tracy - someone who could come in and score 8-12 points a game.

Sometimes we need to run a unit out there with both Deke and Ryan Bowen - who is a lot like Bruce Bowen - except for he's less of a lock-down player, and a lot more of a crazy, hustle, dive-on-loose-balls, take charges, get two offensive rebounds on complete hustle plays type-defender. And while B. Bowen can shoot - I think I could defend Ryan Bowen (if he only chose to take jump shots, I'm well aware he's 6'8" and could easily drive and shoot layups over me).

So with two guys on the floor not needing to be guarded - it's even more difficult for guys in the second unit (Stro Swift, Luther Head, Keith Bogans) to get free for a shot.

So there are players on some NBA teams which compromise their offenses much more than Bruce Bowen does.* (Not that I like him). I'm just sayin'.

*And historically, I'm thinking TR Dunn may be the ultimate version of the horrid offensive player/good-to-great defender.

At 3/28/2006 8:11 PM, Anonymous Tinns said...

That's hilarious. Somehow I'm not sure if kicking someone in the back is the Almighty's iron cast. I'm actually laughing out loud.

(Here here Jimbo. FD comments/-tors are untouchable.)

At 3/28/2006 10:17 PM, Anonymous Torgo said...

While I might be coming in at the end, I gotta disagree with Shoals. Bowen is where he is because of pure, freakish desire to be there. You say as much, by deriding his lack of talent, and equating "good at defense" = "lots of effort", and I agree. Defense is an art, and it's more than blocked shots, or steals, it's hounding the guy your guarding, forcing him to make bad shots or give up the ball because he can't get around you. It takes freakish amounts of energy to do that, and it also takes dedication to keep doing it, all game long.
Please bear in mind, as a Pistons fan, I hate the Spurs. But as for Bowen's lack of offense, almost every time you see two or three guys standing outside the three, you know Bowen's standing in the corner, and that they're going to swing the ball around to him, and with his %, it's probably going to have some negative effect on the team that failed to remember "oh, wait, he can shoot that shot".
Back to the defense/effort thing. Imagine how much better the league would be if more players had that desire? Or, for some players, any desire? Think of Scott Skiles advice on Eddy Curry becoming a better rebounder ("Jump.") Imagine a player like Curry having the same hunger that Bowen has. They'd be a force of nature. We shouldn't be ridiculing Bowen, we should be pointing the finger at the players who should be able to do what he can, but don't. He's in the league to fill a need, and that need is there because too many freakishly talented athletically gifted players can't be bothered to play both ends of the floor.

At 3/28/2006 10:24 PM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...


just to clarify...what I meant before about Bowen's 3-pt shooting is that its an offensive weapon that is tailored-made to his defense: it doesn't take much energy, and by staying behind the arc he doesn't risk getting beat in transition - almost like he's cherry picking, but on defense. As for Wallace....its true he isn't oriented toward scoring, and is in that sense "basically playing D on offense". but Bowen isn't playing offensive at all. just waiting for possesion to change so he can resume his assignment. anyway, that would be my case for a Wallace/Bowen distinction. its basically what Burns already wrote, but not as good.

also, i agree with what Pooh and others said about the undercutting and the favortism. yeah, he got hit with that $10,000 fine (when Ray speaks, the Association listens), but in a way that just proves how much he gets away with on the court. maybe someone here knows the answer to this, but i'd be curious to know how many players have been fined for something they weren't even ejected for. especially something like kicking a player in the back. I love this Rashard Lewis quote:
"If you can just go out and kick somebody and not get ejected, then I should have did it, too."
if only he had....

great discussion all around.

At 3/28/2006 10:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

do any of you folks think that the league needs more villains?? I myself don't like bowen at all but think he serves some kind of purpose in that you can actively dislike him and he will likely spur some primadonna (vince, allen) into some of the funniest acts (and manly comments) you are ever likely to see? while I don't think bowen is much to watch at all his prescence is worth it in my mind to watch vince or allen behave like a little kid at least once a year..

At 3/28/2006 11:38 PM, Blogger Pooh said...

Torgo -

Bowen is where he is because of pure, freakish desire to be there.

I call shennanigans on this as a defense. 90% of the L is there on desire. Seriously, aside from the top 10% of sheer ridiculous athletes, it's that run-through-a-brick-wall thing (largely away from the court, I might add) that gets them there and keeps them there. It's just that Bowen's lack of meaningful skill makes the 'effort' stand out - just as it does for Mark Madsen.

Anon raises a good point, the league needs not only more villains, but good villains. Ray Allen with a pointy goatee style villains. Aside from Kobe, who in the league is worthy of hatred? I don't get the impression that y'all hate D-Wade, you just don't much care for him. Where is the Zeke you just want to ram the ball down his f-in throat? (Aside from in the Knicks owner's box of course...)

Almost makes me miss the black hat Knicks of the '90s...

At 3/29/2006 2:05 AM, Blogger SilverBird5000 said...

i completely agree about the lack of villians. ever since the Ankle formerly known as Doug Christie limped off stage, i've felt a real vacuum of evilness in the league. also, if anyone proves the nefarious implications of "defensive specialist", its Christie.

At 3/29/2006 2:07 AM, Anonymous Torgo said...

Pooh, 90%? How about this: there's the freakish desire to *get* there, that so many NBA players have to have. I don't deny that. But take a look at how many players, once they're there, lose that desire. The players that keep it, that hold onto it, those are the ones we can call stars. Kobe with his scary determination to be the best, Arenas, who only takes chips off his shoulder so he can replace them with bigger, angrier chips, and a good number of the FD beloved, they've still got the hunger. On the other hand, once the big payday comes, when there's the guaranteed contract, I'd say a lot (I want to say majority, but that's a bit harsh) lose that fire that Bowen has not lost. D-Miles? Jalen Rose? Zach Randolph? Hell, I'll toss Shaq on the list, just in terms of conditioning. The players who haven't lost that fire after their set for life, those are the ones we call stars. For all his limitations, Bowen is still doing it, even after he's set for life. He could start dogging it, and of course, if he did, he'd be on the bench, or out of S.A., but those contracts are guaranteed. Defense from a multi-millionaire? That's not.

At 3/29/2006 2:30 AM, Blogger Pooh said...


Fair enough. I retract the majority of shennanigans.

At 3/29/2006 8:31 AM, Anonymous Team Elite said...

From today's Detroit News... I think it fits in this conversation:

"Ben Wallace remains an enigma at the free-throw line. He missed four more Tuesday and has now missed 21 of his last 26 attempts. He is shooting 42.4 percent on the season, his lowest since the 2001-2002 season.
Coach Flip Saunders said that Wallace's free-throw shooting is baffling because he has decent form on the shots and in practice, he makes 70 and 80 percent of them.

'My theory is, he plays so hard defensively and he's so intense, his body gets so wound up that when he gets to the free-throw line, he can't get that calmed down. You need to be relaxed to shoot free throws.'

'But he is so intense on the one end, that when he goes on offense, it's like he just stepped out of the weight room.'

At 3/29/2006 8:42 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

that said, wallace has found a way to make himself a remarkably agile finisher when he wants/needs to be


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