BOCAUE, Philippines - Before entering the league as Barangay Ginebra’s import in 2016, Justin Brownlee bounced from team after team after team.
The multi-faceted forward went undrafted in the 2011 NBA Draft and had to endure a roller-coaster journey in the NBA G League, formerly known as the Developmental League, and in different leagues worldwide before anchoring the Gin Kings to back-to-back Governors’ Cup titles.
When asked if he will come back to reinforce Ginebra again after they toppled the Meralco Bolts in Game 7 of the Governors’ Cup finals on Friday, October 27, Brownlee had an emotional moment.
“I hope so. I definitely wouldn’t want to play anywhere else. Especially at this point, the success I’ve had here, the relationships I have with Ginebra, I’m truly blessed.”
After a two-year stint at St John’s University, Brownlee suited up for the Maine Red Claws in the D-League in 2011 and then joined the New York Knicks in the 2012 and 2013 NBA Summer League. He signed a contract with the Knicks prior to the 2013-2014 season but was waived a few days after.
He went back to the D-League as part of the Erie Bayhawks in November 2013 but his stay there lasted only for a few months. Brownlee played professionally for the Toros de Nuevo Laredo in Mexico, Germani Basket Brescia in Italy and Élan Chalon in France before ultimately landing a deal with Ginebra.
“I feel very lucky to even be still wanted. Before here, my career, it wasn’t going as I planned. Coming here, it was kind of like a lifesaver for me, it turned my life around for the better.”
It was with the Gin Kings Brownlee experienced the most success in his career. In Game 6 of the Governors’ Cup finals last year, he stamped himself in Ginebra’s rich history as he hit the title-clinching shot at the buzzer that ended the franchise's 8-year championship drought.
This season, it was a no-brainer who would reinforce Ginebra as the management tapped the services of the 6-foot-7 stud for Commissioner’s and the Governors’ Cup. And he delivered.
Brownlee averaged 23.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.4 steals on an impressive 46.7 percent shooting in the finals of the season-ending conference, punctuated by a 23-point, 8-rebound, 5-assists and 3-block outing in Game 7.
As if becoming the first import to lead Ginebra to two titles wasn’t historic enough, Brownlee did it in front of a frenetic crowd of 54,086 at the Philippine Arena, an all-time high in gate attendance for the PBA.
“You dream of playing in a championship but I never thought it would be in a place like this. 50 plus thousand, it’s amazing, man. Ginebra fans, they came out to support us. Just amazing feeling just to be out on that court and winning a championship. It’s unbelievable man.”
Will he be back next season?
“I don’t think so. We’ll look up for somebody else,” said Ginebra coach Tim Cone, who won two of his 20 championships with Brownlee.
“Nah, of course I’m kidding. No, of course. I mean, the thing about Justin is that he is super mabait, he’s just a really, really super nice guy. The players love him, [he is] the easiest guy I ever had to coach and he is a big shot maker. He plays big moments really, really well. He’s so calm every time. The game never gets bigger than him.” – Rappler.com
Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.