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Why Does Everyone Hate This Man?

Bruce Bowen is the NBA's most tenacious defender, which isn't winning him any popularity contests.

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Bruce Bowen smiles as he recalls the encounter: The heckler had gray hair and a leathery tan from too much retirement golf. A whitehaired lady sat next to him in the expensive seats at Phoenix’s U.S. Airways Center. “Bowen, you’re a thug,” the heckler screamed. “Bowen, you’re a thug!”

“I looked right at the little old lady and said, ‘Lady, are you really with him?’” Bowen says one late summer afternoon. “The look on his face was funny, and then people around him started chuckling, because they saw that I’m having fun with this and this was not getting to me. I just said, ‘Wow, does he even know what a thug is?’

” Bowen, the San Antonio Spurs’ physical, defensive-minded forward, is accustomed to insults. Undrafted after an unspectacular career at Cal State– Fullerton, he may not be the most hated man in the NBA, but he’s certainly mentioned in the conversation. He is one of the most vital and versatile players in the NBA. First and foremost, he is a dogged defender, maybe the best perimeter player in the game. But he’s also capable of hitting the dagger-J from beyond the arc, as he’s done numerous times. His persistent, aggressive—and annoying—style has earned him selection to the NBA’s All-Defensive team each of the past seven seasons. Twice he has been runner-up in voting for Defensive Player of the Year. Routinely, he has limited the production of such o

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