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.