Temp to Champ: Justin Brownlee's Magical PBA journey with Ginebra
Paul Kennedy Lintag on May 23, 2020 05:48 PM
Justin Brownlee went from replacement to legend with "The Shot" and four sweet PBA titles with Barangay Ginebra.
(This story was originally published on January 31, 2020)
With Barangay Ginebra's recent title win in the 2019 PBA Governors' Cup, Justin Brownlee is now a four-time champion.
In just under four years, Brownlee has completely captivated Ginebra and its legion of fans.
Brownlee's influence extends beyond the barangay, one can only hear the continuous calls for him to become Gilas Pilipinas' naturalized player as proof of his influence.
He is well-loved not just because of his on-court ability but more so because he is genuinely a good human being.
But for all of Brownlee's brilliance in the PBA, everything almost never actually happened.
He wasn't even supposed to stay here, let alone come.
THE TNT CONNECTION
In 2011, Paul Harris came to the PBA and won the Commissioner's Cup title with the Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters.
They beat Barangay Ginebra in the Finals after six games.
Also in 2011, Harris was playing in the NBA D-League for the Maine Red Claws and one of his teammates was Justin Brownlee. The link has been established long before the Gin Kings cashed in.
"To be honest, very ironically, the only person who ever told me about the Philippines was Paul," Brownlee told ABS-CBN Sports.
"After he played with Talk 'N Text, we played together in the NBA D-League and I knew Paul before but I really met him when we played in the D-League. He had a lot to say about the Philippines and the way they loved basketball and the way he just won a championship," he added.
After his 2011 championship, Harris would come back for a couple more stints with the Tropang Texters.
But in 2016 for the Governors’ Cup, Harris would switch teams. Five years after taking them down for the Commissioner’s Cup title, the former Syracuse forward was now suiting up for Barangay Ginebra.
Unfortunately, Harris’ Ginebra tenure lasted only one game after he injured his thumb at the Mall of Asia Arena. The Gin Kings were now scrambling and Ginebra had to make a call for a replacement.
It was Justin Brownlee that answered. The rest is history.
"He told me if you ever have a chance to play in the Philippines, you should really take it," Brownlee said of Harris' advice.
"It was my first opportunity for Ginebra so I took it. It's just crazy, because it was for him being injured [that I got a call],' Brownlee added.
3 AND D
As a 22-time PBA champion, coach Tim Cone has an eye on players that can do well in the Philippines.
Coach Tim knew that Justin Brownlee would have success in the PBA the moment he laid his eyes on him.
"I remember scouting him in the NBA Summer League and thought, 'Wow, that guy would really do well in the Philippines,'" Cone said of Brownlee.
"But he was a little bit more one-dimensional back then. He was more of a just a 3-and-D guy, he was a stretch four, shot a lot of three-points. He proved he could play bigger guys and play against bigger guys even though he was only 6'5". Those kind of guys usually do well here," the champion mentor added.
From the time Brownlee first entered the PBA as Paul Harris' replacement as Ginebra import in the 2016 PBA Governors' Cup to now, Cone was proven right.
Brownlee turned out to be quite successful in the PBA. With more championships than playoff series lost, he shows no signs of slowing down.
About four years in, teams still can't check Brownlee and there's a reason for that according to Cone.
"The thing about Justin that impressed me is that while he's been here, his game has improved so tremendously," Coach Tim said. “I was talking to my son who lives in San Francisco. And we were talking about, you know how great Justin is and how hard it is to defend them and how happy I am that he's on my team. I would hate to have to try to guard him on the other side.”
"Reminds me a lot actually a Bobby Parks, you know, when I was trying to figure out ways to guard Bobby Parks. Just could not find ways. He always would find a way to beat you and that's exactly what Justin does," Cone added, pretty much giving Brownlee one of the ultimate seals of approval for a PBA import.
Justin Brownlee could have been a star anywhere else in the world.
He was already in the NBA D-League, he could have gotten an actual shot in the NBA if he stayed long enough for what it's worth.
But he found himself in the PBA with Barangay Ginebra. The Gin Kings certainly hit the jackpot with him and they're not letting Brownlee go.
"The one thing my son said, he said, 'Sorry, dad. But you know, Justin's in the wrong League. He shouldn't be in the PBA. He should be in the NBA, playing as a star somewhere, if he had been given a chance,'" Coach Tim recalled about a conversation he had with his own son about Brownlee.
"He's an NBA-caliber guy. I don't think there's any doubt. He'll be back next year and I think he'll be better even next year than he was this year," Cone added.
Brownlee could have been a star anywhere else but the Philippines has become a second home for Brownlee.
He will remain a Gin King as long as the barangay wants him to stay.
“It’s just the mentality, to be honest. It starts with the ‘Never Say Die’ mentality. Just seeing how the people can come together and motivate other people to do something positive. All the way from the boss, to Coach Tim, to each player, it’s all about coming together,” Brownlee said on what allures him to Barangay Ginebra.
“Thet [first] championship was great of course, but for me to come back, it was more so the culture. How the people treated basketball here and the relationship I started building with my teammates, and Coach Tim and the whole management. Over the championship, those are the things I love most, the real reason why I came back. Even if we never won, if I was asked to come back, I would come back in a hurry,” Justin added.
TEMP TO CHAMP
Justin Brownlee most definitely made a name for himself in the Philippines with four Finals appearances, four PBA championships, one Best Import award, most three-pointers ever made by an import, and “The Shot.”
For a replacement import, that's not too bad.
Brownlee's legacy here is set, when he comes back for more, he’s just going to continue to make his case as the PBA’s GOAT import.
But for all of Brownlee's brilliance in the PBA, everything almost never actually happened. He wasn't even supposed to stay here, let alone come.
“My contract was only for one month,” Brownlee told ABS-CBN Sports on his first stint with Ginebra all the way back from the 2016 Governors’ Cup. “I didn’t know the full details of Paul’s injury at the time. I just remember they [Ginebra] wanted me another month, and it just turned into the rest of the conference. “
“It wasn’t even to stay for the whole conference [first contract]. It was very unfortunate that Paul got hurt but the opportunity presented itself to me and I tried to just take advantage of it the most I can,” Brownlee added.
He took advantage indeed.
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