SAN ANTONIO (Sept. 30, 2014) -- During the first half of the fall semester, Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) plans and presents a special event for athletes to highlight the NAIA's Champions of Character's five core values, and this fall 2014, the University gave the students a special treat.
When trying to decide on a special guest, Gloria Urrabazo, Vice President for Mission and Ministry and Adrienne Rodriguez, OLLU's Champions of Character Representative, collaborated with the University's Ken Rodriguez, who is communications manager and a former columnist with the San Antonio Express-News. Rodriguez suggested Bruce Bowen, a former member of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs and three-time NBA champion. Rodriguez knew Bowen from his years covering the Spurs, and when asked, Bowen agreed to speak to the student-athletes and the OLLU community.
The University's Mission and Ministry division, along with Student Life and Athletics, welcomed Bowen on Monday, Sept. 29, and approximately 400 students, faculty, staff, alumni, as well as members of the Congregation of Divine Providence, filled the University's Mabee Gymnasium to hear him speak.
Ken Rodriguez introduced Bowen with a story he wrote for the Express-News on Father's Day in 2007. The Spurs had just won the NBA championship, and Rodriguez focused on a Spur of whom San Antonio could be proud – Bruce Bowen.
During the playoffs, Rodriguez wrote, Bowen was getting ready for an opponent, but he first had to take a final exam at the University of Texas at San Antonio to finish his degree in public relations.
"One would think that taking an exam would be far from his mind – he had an NBA championship to win," Rodriguez said. But, Bowen knew that the school was not going to change the date of the exam just because he had a game. Besides, Bowen would later say, "Basketball is my refuge. It's where I go to forget about everything else; taking an exam is hard – that's where my focus had to be. I needed that degree. How else would I encourage my kids and other young people to go out and get a degree if I did not have one myself?"
After the column was published, Rodriguez checked his voice mail and heard a surprising message. Rodriguez said, "The voice message was from Bruce, and it said, 'Thank you.'"
It was the first time a professional athlete had ever called to thank him. After that, Rodriguez's family, including his wife and children, became Bowen's biggest fans, and Bowen and Rodriguez have remained friends to this day.
Bowen began his speech talking about the importance of student-athletes having passion for what they do and to always strive to do their best, even if their best does not result in a win.
Bowen has been known as one of the NBA's fiercest and most-feared defenders. In his career, he was elected eight times to the NBA All-Defensive First and Second Teams. He was effective on the court, but his hard-nosed style of play often came under discussion. Bowen talked a little about this during his speech, in particular about his relationship with Ray Allen, who played with the Boston Celtics during Bowen's time in the NBA.
Bowen would often antagonize Allen during games, which at times, resulted in Allen losing focus. Bowen emphasized that in all sports, one of the most important things to keep in mind is to be mentally strong and to always stay focused on the ultimate goal of winning. He said, "Don't allow distractions to make you forget about what your team is trying to accomplish."
Bowen cited discipline as an important priority of one's character. "Who you are and how hard you work determines your success."
Bowen talked about integrity, respect and responsibility – three of the core values of the NAIA's Champions of Character program.
As a famous NBA athlete, Bowen said he must always remember that people see him as an example, even when he is away from his job as an NBA analyst with ESPN. When he runs into his fans at the grocery store, he does feel that he is "off the clock," but nevertheless, he knows his fans love him and only want to share in his success. He told the OLLU athletes that they are leaders on campus and that they must always think about the impact they have on others. Having respect and integrity for their sport and for their university are important qualities to take seriously at all times. With today's world of instantaneous postings on social media, everything one does is for public consumption. "People are looking up to you, even when you least expect it. They are always watching what you do," Bowen said.
Bowen is well known for his sense of fashion, and he has taken up wearing bow ties, especially during official events. However, wearing them is more than just a fashion statement. "I wear bow times because I came up with an acronym for BOW that defines who I am – Being Optimistic Wins."
It was hard for Bowen to be optimistic during his growing-up years -- they were not pleasant. His parents were far from ideal, but he used that to pattern his life against and to make his own situation better, and to break the cycle. He was not going to belabor the fact that his life was bad; he was focused on how he could make his life better.
He used the analogy of volleyball. No matter what play is made during a match, after the play, the team comes together on the court to pat each other and encourage one another. "You don't see someone saying, 'Why did you hit the ball that way?' You hear them saying, 'We'll get them next time.'"
"At the end of the day," Bowen said, "what matters is what you have done for your team, for your friends, for your family, for the community. Being a champion takes a lot of selfless giving both on the court and off" -- an ideal example of servant leadership, one of the core values of Champions of Character.
Bowen closed out his speech to the community by encouraging all the student-athletes present to be an example of their words. "We can all say great words, but if your actions are not reflecting your words, they are not worth anything."
Upon the conclusion of the event, Bowen received a plaque and a gift package from Athletic Director and Vice President for Student Life Jack Hank. In addition, OLLU President Sister Jane Ann Slater led the audience in a special blessing for Bowen. He enjoyed posing with the Sisters of the Divine Providence – some of his biggest fans – as well as students and staff of OLLU for departing.
OLLU joined the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics in 2007, and every year since then, the University has been named a Champions of Character Five-Star Institution.