When Bruce Bowen peers down at USA Basketball from the stands of Carioca Arena 1 in Rio, he’ll do so from a unique vantage point. For a star-filled group like Team USA, playing championship basketball and sacrificing along the way is tantamount. Bowen, who played 14 NBA seasons, most notably with the Spurs, knows a lot about both.
Bowen is dishing his latest assist in Brazil, where he's donating time to the NBA House and its cause of spreading what has already become a global game. In between conversations with Manu Ginobili, Mike Krzyzewski and countless fans, Bowen found time to talk with SI.com about his Rio experience, Tim Duncan’s retirement, Gregg Popovich’s new job as USA Basketball head coach and more.
SI.com: Have you made it over to watch USA Basketball in the Olympics thus far?
Bruce Bowen: "Watching, it’s not much of a priority for me right now. But it’s more about broadening the game and interacting with the fans here that don’t get to see a lot of players, the ambassadors of the game. I really find it interesting how much they follow the game as far as seeing someone like myself and being able to talk about things that have happened in my career."
SI.com: What was the most interesting thing anyone said to you about the Spurs or your time in the NBA?
BB: "I just did a little question-and-answer deal, and this person said, ‘How do you feel about the Lakers being that Derek Fisher outted you guys in 2004 with 0.4 seconds?’ That’s 12 years ago, and the fact that someone could say something like that just shows you that their knowledge of the game is growing. The beautiful part about all this is giving the kids a different venue, a different avenue, goal. All their hopes and dreams aren’t put in futbol, now they have an opportunity to do something in basketball as well."
SI.com: Is this trip to Rio your first Olympic experience?
BB: "No, this is my second. I did NBA House in London, and then I participated in the World Championships in Madrid. I’ve seen where it’s come from, and it’s still amazing to me how the league is in the process of really utilizing different opportunities to broaden the game.
"I came across a group of Mexicans the other day and they were talking about the Spurs, and then you have Argentineans talking about how they love the Spurs as well. Of course, they do with Manu’s influence. Just seeing so many cultures here has been fantastic."
SI.com: Before latching on with NBA House, you played at the FIBA World Championships at the tail end of your career back in 2006. What do you remember about that experience?
BB: "It’s funny, I remember Carmelo [Anthony] being a young guy then. I’m proud of where he is now in life. He’s a leader of this team, he’s a veteran, and there were always times when people tried to get Carmelo to do this, LeBron to do that, Chris Paul to this. To see where they are as far as this game is concerned it’s truly special, because these guys were youngsters at one point. Now they’re leading the charge and leading the charge for good change. We look at the ESPY—I know this has nothing to do with the Olympics—but look at the way that they stood up for the injustices against African-Americans and those others who have suffered injustices. That’s a bold move for athletics to get into that realm of things, but it just shows you the way they’ve grown. And the only other time we can think of something like that transpiring was Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson."
SI.com: As someone who played for Coach K, how do you feel about what he’s done for USA Basketball and this being his final Olympics?
BB: "I was talking to him last night, and it’s truly amazing that he still has the mindset to do the things that he does. Not just here, but even with the youngsters coming into the game today. So, to see him and be able to talk to him about the things that have transpired within this game and where it’s come from when we were in Vegas is special. He’s a Hall of Fame coach for a reason."
SI.com: With that, I’ll move on to your former coach, Gregg Popovich, who will take over for the 2020 Olympics. What do you expect him to bring?
BB: "I think with Pop you’re going to see guys thrilled with the opportunity to play for him, because they’ve seen it; they’ve dealt with it from playing in games against him. Plus, you have the best players in the world trying to take tidbits from a Hall of Fame coach.
"He won’t change things too much. He’s just going to ask guys to do the best they can for one common goal, and that common goal is to represent your country to the best of your ability."
SI.com: You mentioned Manu Ginobili earlier in our conversation. Was it fun for you as a former teammate to see him make that final push with the Argentinian team
BB: "I’ve always said that Manu is like a brother to me. I’m proud of him, I’m proud of his accomplishments, I’m proud that Argentina has such a well-respected guy that’s full of character. Everyone would say I need a bodyguard here, I need a bodyguard there—that was never Manu’s thing. He’s one of the most approachable individuals that I’ve ever played with, and at the same time, I think he’s a Hall of Famer due to what he’s been able to accomplish in his basketball career."
SI.com: Shifting to another longtime Spurs teammate of yours, how much time did you spend in San Antonio this past year with it being Tim Duncan’s last season?
BB: "I live in San Antonio, so I get a chance to see all that stuff. For me, it’s more about how hard it is for a guy like Tim to walk away from the game that he loves. It’s what he’s done for so long. Even last week, he picked me up from the airport and we’re talking, and he’s stressing that he needs to start working out. Those [pounds] start adding up, and the athlete in him says I can’t be this big or I can’t be this heavy, and I don’t see him as heavy. You look at his frame and it’s not there, but when you’re accustomed to doing things a certain way you can feel yourself expanding."
SI.com: Did you ever feel like that when you retired? At a certain point in the summer did you start to feel like you should be prepping for a season?
BB: "Absolutely, it’s one of those things that kicks in even now. You feel your waist expanding or your belly getting out there, and you’re like, ‘Oh, I got to do some sit-ups, I got to go run, I need to something,’ because we’ve worked out for so many years. And while you don’t want to do it to that degree, at the same time you want to make sure you keep your body right."
SI.com: One final question: Who do you see as the guy who will carry that mantle now that Tim Duncan has retired? Is it Kawhi Leonard? I ask that because you played that small forward position there and have a unique insight into what he’s asked to do there.
BB: "That’s the disadvantage that Kawhi’s going to be at. Everyone’s going to ask who is going to carry on Tim’s legacy, like when David left and we all knew it was going to be Tim. I think it’s more about Kawhi being who he is and who he’s been the past few years. Because when you try to do something that you have no control over, things tend to go south. So, I don’t think it’ll be a big to do about who’s team [it is] and that kind of stuff, but making sure they can keep that standard of play up."