Former friends Allen, Bowen bring the fireworks

From friends to foes, the rivalry between Ray Allen and Bruce Bowen is heating up in the Sonics-Spurs series.

Updated: May 13, 2005, 6:40 PM ET
By Frank Hughes | Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: This story appeared before Game 3 of the Sonics-Spurs series.

Sometimes there are relationships that are so obvious that one only needs to study their dynamic to determine the outcome of a certain endeavor.

Like Mork and Mindy.

Starsky and Hutch.

Jerome James, Ray Allen
When Ray Allen needs a hug, he doesn't seek out Bruce Bowen.

Ponch and Jon.

Of course, those associations all were friendly (and one even turned romantic – we'll let you guess which one).

That was how the relationship between Seattle SuperSonics star guard Ray Allen and San Antonio Spurs star defender Bruce Bowen started.

Allen said they used to hang out in the summer, when they would attend mutual NBA events in the offseason.

Now, though, it has morphed into adversarial, even nasty, sort of like "The Honeymooners" on a 10-day bender – and we get to watch it unfold in all its delicious antagonism over the next few days, when the Allen-Bowen divorce proceedings are the main subplot of the second-round playoff series between the Sonics and Spurs, and likely the determining factor in who wins.

"Oddly enough, he used to be a friend of mine," Allen said. "Used to."

Amen, brother. Now can I get a meow?

And you thought the whole Allen-Kobe Bryant affair was juicy.

And you thought the whole Allen-Tim Thomas affair was juicy.

And you thought the whole Allen-George Karl affair was juicy.

Wait, I am repeating myself.

Well, not really. Allen, a likeable chap, seems to have more bitter rivals than Hootie Johnson at a NOW convention, and sometimes I think he does it to be an imp, giving himself feverish challenges against the mere mortals.

But this one, it seems, is genuine in that Allen normally loses his cool in respect to Bowen, unable to contain the normally calm demeanor that envelops Jesus Shuttlesworth in his daily wanderings and preachings.

This one would be a natural even without the backdrop of abhorrence, if only because of the two men's standings within their profession.

Allen, who put up a glorious 45-point night that essentially secured Seattle's first-round victory over the Sacramento Kings, was leading all scorers in the postseason with a 32.4-point average coming into this series.

Bowen recently was the runner-up in the voting for NBA Defensive Player of the Year, garnering 33 of 125 first-place votes, so tenacious is he at his specialty.

But that is not what makes this matchup delectable.

No, it is its recent history.

Seattle's first introduction to Bowen came in the 2001-02 postseason, when the Sonics and Spurs met in a best-of-five first-round series.

Before the series began, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich asked Bowen whom he wanted to cover, thinking he would say All-Star guard Gary Payton, but hoping he would say otherwise.

Bowen said otherwise, telling a proud Popovich he wanted to guard Brent Barry because he thought the quicker Tony Parker could handle Payton.

Not only did Bowen guard Barry – who, ironically, happens to be a Spurs teammate now – he embarrassed him. Barry went from a 14.4 regular-season scoring average to 7.8 points per game in the series. Barry shot 51 percent in the regular season, 41 percent in the postseason. In a series that went five games, it was the deciding factor.

During that series, the Sonics labeled Bowen a bully, which amused Tim Duncan, who asked, when told of the accusation: "Bully? You mean skinny little Bruce?"

Then, on April 11, 2003, in the teams' first meeting since Allen was traded from Milwaukee to Seattle, Bowen was ejected from the game for throwing an elbow at Allen, who had scored 32 points.

That was a prelude to last season, when the Spurs visited Seattle. Bowen harassed Allen enough to provoke Allen's ire.

"The ironic thing is Bruce and I used to hang out," Allen said at the time. "Now I can't stand him. I understand the persona on the court, that no one likes anybody, but what he does is sissy basketball."

Well now, I'd say that officially was the first salvo fired in what has become an amusing war of words for the innocent bystanders.

"I was at the point where I wanted to fight him," Allen continued. "There was one time where I lost the ball and went out of bounds. I got up and he pushed me down. I went over to the referee and I was irate. They see what they want to see."

Bowen's response?

"I don't go to that beat of the drum, where you say, 'OK, go ahead and do what you want,' '' he said. "I compete night in and night out. My job is to make it as difficult as possible."

OK, so now we're in San Antonio on March 30 of this season. The Spurs beat the Sonics 89-76, the second-fewest points the Sonics have scored this season. At one point, Allen and Bowen square off and are separated. Then they get tangled up again and Allen is called for an offensive foul.

After the game, as he is icing a hand that he says Bowen injured, Allen, who was held to 14 points on 6-for-17 shooting, offered this: "He doesn't play basketball. I don't know what he does. They put him out there to throw punches and throw elbows. That is not basketball out there, what he plays.

"I don't compare him to anybody because he is the only guy I know that doesn't play basketball. He is out there playing some other sport. I don't know what you call it."

To which Bowen replied: "It is what it is, man. I mean, you're an All-Star. You're an All-Star for a reason, because you're a very good player. I actually don't know what to say about that.

"I've heard so much, but I've never heard the great ones say anything like that. You never heard Michael Jordan say, 'Oh, John Starks doesn't play basketball.' John Starks may have been physical with him – and what did he do? He went and hit the gym hard and continued to play."

That brings us to this series, which the Spurs lead two games to none after dispatching Seattle easily in both games at the SBC Center.

Even before the series began, Allen was deriding Bowen.

"It's the stuff that he does that referees don't see," Allen said. "He pulls you; he grabs you; he hits your elbow every time you shoot; when you go to the basket he pushes you – and then he falls. Stuff like that is not really basketball.

"It's almost like they think he is playing defense, but anybody in the league will tell you he is the one guy they can't stand because of the way he plays defense. It's not like he is standing in front of you or he is keeping you from scoring. You know how Reggie (Evans) and Danny (Fortson) can get under your skin because they are so physical? He is similar, but he does little things that make people want to fight him."

So, in a world where kismet surely exists, Allen sprained his ankle in Game 1 when he stepped on the foot of Bowen. It was the precursor to Seattle's complete implosion.

The defense by Bowen on the play could be construed two ways. First, Bowen was playing tight defense. Or, Bowen undercut Allen and put Allen in a precarious position.

You can guess which view Allen took.

"Bruce was riding me the whole time and I was shocked I didn't get a foul call," Allen said.

"That was the second time I went to the hole, and he was grabbing and holding onto me and he flopped out of bounds like I pushed him into the backstop. The second time I twisted my ankle off of it."

You can guess which view Bowen took.

"You see what's going on," Bowen said. "At this point it's like, 'Whatever, Ray.'

"It's frustrating, because I work hard at what I do, and I didn't know that because of what I do, I would be labeled the villain."

Apparently, the officials read the newspapers, or perhaps the mysterious "official" who called Jeff Van Gundy had a say in the way Game 2 was called.

Because even with a sprained ankle, Allen got a foul call on Bowen in the first minute. He had two on him less than five minutes in. He had five on him in 17 minutes and had Bowen swabbing bench seats with his bum for most of the night while Allen went for 25 points.

"The referees made the right calls," Allen said. "I have been saying for a long time that I stand under the basket and he is throwing elbows, just throwing elbows. I am telling the refs, 'Look, watch.' They caught him a couple times. And the times he rode me to the basket, they made the right calls."

Said Bowen: "It was unfortunate that I got so many foul calls. I don't think that I did too much where I was over-aggressive."

As this series moves to Seattle, the Sonics need Allen to play even better than he did against Bowen in Game 2 if the Sonics want to have any prayer of extending the series, though you know Bowen is intent on getting back to the stifling defense that has him regarded as the league's premier perimeter defender.

Well, now, this isn't Mork and Mindy, is it?

Frank Hughes, who covers the NBA for the Tacoma (Wash.) News-Tribune, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.