Every championship team has several key role players who make a huge difference with limited responsibilities. They're necessary components of a winner, though, and those players deserve credit for what they do. Usually, that comes in the form of a ridiculous contract or random team honor involving a gold watch and short pregame ceremony. Because, you know, those guys still aren't stars.
However, the San Antonio Spurs see things a little differently. In December 2007, they retired the No. 6 jersey of longtime point guard Avery Johnson, whose best season with the club topped out at a PER of 17.3, which is in fact 2.3 hollingerinos above the league average. Now, they're set to bestow the same honor upon franchise mainstay Bruce Bowen and his No.12 uniform during halftime of their March 21 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. From the team's press release:
Bowen's No. 12 jersey will join James Silas' No. 13, George Gervin's No. 44, Johnny Moore's No. 00, David Robinson's No. 50, Sean Elliott's No. 32 and Avery Johnson's No. 6 in the rafters in the AT&T Center.
"Bruce Bowen was the premier perimeter defender in the NBA for close to a decade," said Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich. "His success is proof that hard work and determination do, in fact, pay off. Statistics are meaningless when talking about his importance to this franchise. The simple fact is the Spurs don't win NBA Championships in 2003, 2005 and 2007 without Bruce Bowen."
Bowen joined the Spurs on July 31, 2001. He spent nine seasons (2001-09) in San Antonio and appeared in 630 games, one of just eight players to appear in 600-plus games with the Spurs. Bowen started in every game he played in for the Silver and Black, averaging 6.4 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 31.2 minutes.
Popovich is correct that Bowen's contributions can't be measured in stats, although the figures of eight All-Defensive selections and a franchise-record 500 straight starts do a decent job. He was a major contributor to a series of very successful teams, and a pillar of the community and an occasional student at UT-San Antonio while a Spur. It makes sense that they'd want to give him this honor.
Still, Bowen is far from the usual retired-jersey recipient, even if he's much more deserving than Johnson was in 2007. For most teams, only the greatest of stars get a retired jersey. And while it's fine for the Spurs to give out these honors as they wish, it does make you wonder if they'll keep going with more role players from their championship squads. Is Fabricio Oberto next? Or do the Spurs already recognize Manu Ginobili's makeshift ceremony from November 2010?
Whatever the case, it's clear that the team's biggest stars will now deserve an honor greater than a simple jersey retirement. Look for an Iwo Jima-style statue of Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker raising a championship banner some time over the next decade.