Bowen retires from NBA

Updated: September 5, 2009, 3:03 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

After helping the San Antonio Spurs win three championships and establishing himself as perhaps the premier perimeter defender of his generation, Bruce Bowen is retiring at 38.

Bowen formally announced his retirement Thursday at the San Antonio spa/salon he co-owns and operates with his wife, Yardley.

"It's not how you start but how you finish," Bowen told local reporters, reflecting on his unlikely journey from undrafted free agent out of Cal State Fullerton to key contributor with three championship teams in San Antonio.

[+] EnlargeBruce Bowen
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesBruce Bowen, seen defending LeBron James in the 2007 NBA Finals, helped the Spurs win three titles.

"I hope my legacy would be as someone that never was satisfied with just being where they were."

Bowen's eight seasons with the Spurs -- during which he became a fixture on the NBA's all-defensive team as well as a target for criticism after numerous opponents complained about his tactics -- ended in June when San Antonio included him in the three-team trade with Milwaukee and Detroit that brought the offensive-minded Richard Jefferson to the Alamo City.

"People are entitled to their own opinions," Bowen said. "I've been fighting that ['dirty' label] for quite some time. It just so happened that I was there after everyone stuck their hands in the cookie jar and then the lights came on and I had a cookie."

Asked about the likely reaction to his retirement from stars such as the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant and the Phoenix Suns' Steve Nash, Bowen said with a laugh: "I'm sure a lot of people are happy."

Bowen became an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 1 after the Bucks, foiled in their attempts throughout July to move him along in a subsequent deal, paid $2 million to buy out his $4 million contract for next season.

It was initially believed that Bowen would then sign in August with one of the Spurs' championship rivals. Orlando, Boston and Cleveland were all mentioned as possibilities. But he has apparently decided instead to pursue his off-court business and community interests as well as a career in broadcasting.

Veterans with playoff résumés like Bowen's are frequently invited to sign with contenders as a stretch-run addition for the playoffs, but it was not immediately known whether Bowen would be open to an in-season comeback. His next basketball-related appointment is Oct. 10, when Bowen joins Canadian Football League legend Damon Allen and former Major League Baseball pitcher Dan Boone in a class of six inductees into Cal State-Fullerton's Athletics Hall of Fame.

After going undrafted out of Fullerton in 1993, Bowen began his professional career in France as more of a scorer, before transforming himself into a defensive specialist to win over then-Miami Heat coach Pat Riley. He played sparingly for Miami, Boston and Philadelphia in his first four NBA seasons, before returning to the Heat in 2000-01 and breaking through to be voted by coaches to the league's all-defensive second team.

Bowen then signed with the Spurs in the summer of 2001 and wound up making the all-defensive first team five straight times between 2003-04 and 2007-08. Developing a reliable 3-point shot from the corners along the way, complementing his ability to guard players of all sizes and offsetting his struggles at the free throw line, Bowen was a fixture in the starting lineup as San Antonio won championships in 2003, 2005 and 2007.

But there were fines and controversies in San Antonio as well, as Bowen -- for all of his good work in the city as an off-the-court ambassador -- was accused by high-profile foes such as Vince Carter, Ray Allen and Steve Nash for stepping into the landing space of jump shooters or using his hands and feet too aggressively. Bowen started 500 straight games for the Spurs before getting hit with a one-game suspension in March 2008 for kicking New Orleans' Chris Paul. On Thursday, though, Bowen said he only once purposely kicked another player: Seattle's Allen in a March 2006 game as part of an incident that earned him a $10,000 fine.

"That play I remember and I regret because of me intentionally doing that," Bowen said.

After starting in every regular-season and playoff game in his first seven seasons with the Spurs -- and leading the league in 3-point percentage (.441) in 2002-03 -- Bowen averaged just 18.9 minutes per game in 2008-09. Injuries suffered at various points by Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili prompted San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich to search for more offense, which sliced into Bowen's playing time.

Bowen averaged 6.1 points in 873 regular-season games, posted a career percentage of .393 from 3-point range and earned an unexpected invite at the age of 35 to try out for Team USA in the summer of 2006 from coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics