As soon as Justin Brownlee’s name was introduced in the starting lineup during Tanduay Alab Pilipinas’s game against the Westports Malaysia Dragons on Wednesday, the Filipino crowd in attendance at the FilOil Flying V Centre roared in delight.
Brownlee is a certified crowd-favorite among Filipino fans as he played for the country’s most popular team – the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel of the PBA. He gave Ginebra two PBA conference championships in the last two years, thus it was no wonder that Brownlee’s Ginebra jerseys were seen all across the arena. The crowd shouted and applauded every time the American reinforcement touched the basketball.
“It’s fun and exciting just being in front of the crowd and being back in the Philippines is very exciting for me,” Brownlee said with a huge smile.
Brownlee, along with Renaldo Balkman, replaced Reggie Okosa and Ivan Johnson for Alab and he fit perfectly with his new team. He registered 29 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists in an all-around effort for the Philippines’ 90-79 victory over the Dragons.
“It’s great man, the team is a great team, great group of guys. They went out there and played hard,” he shared about his new teammates.
Brownlee arrived in the Philippines Wednesday morning and despite suffering from fatigue and jetlag, he performed exceptionally well. He hasn’t even practiced with his new team and yet played flawlessly. He went on to credit his team for welcoming him with open arms and pointed out how it was a humbling experience to play for Filipino basketball legend coach Jimmy Alapag.
“It was a great opportunity and an honor to be able to play for a guy like him, as intelligent as he is and the type of player he was,” Brownlee fondly said of his coach. “He was a great player in the PBA for many years.”
“Playing for somebody like that with a lot of knowledge in basketball and also a great guy, it’s a blessing for me and my career. I’ll definitely take advantage of that,” he added.
Alapag and Brownlee are familiar foes who faced each other in the PBA. Back in 2016, the two combatants went head-to-head for the PBA Governors’ Cup. Brownlee even delivered the buzzer-beating triple that lifted Ginebra over Alapag’s team, the Meralco Bolts, in the deciding championship game. A year later, Ginebra and Meralco were on opposite ends again for the title. That time around, Alapag was serving as the team’s consultant. And for the second straight year, Brownlee and Ginebra reigned supreme in the PBA Governors’ Cup.
“I have personal experience with Justin Brownlee, both as a player and as a coach. I got burned twice – both times in the Finals,” Alapag shared, almost laughing how fate brought them together. “There’s no secret what type of player he is. [I’m] just really thankful that he’s here to play with Alab for this ABL Season. Really fortunate to have him.”
Even after Brownlee’s two-year stint playing in the PBA, he has continued to enjoy visiting the Philippines. He has even watched a couple of collegiate games the past year, appreciating the Filipino brand of basketball even more. He formed real connections with fans and real friendships with his PBA teammates. On Wednesday’s game, two of his Ginebra teammates took time to watch him live for his ABL game, to which he was grateful for their support.
Probably the icing on the cake for Brownlee’s first experience playing for Alab came late in the third period against the Dragons. The ever-versatile forward caught fire and knocked down back-to-back triples that sent the jam-packed crowd into delirium. The fans began to chant “Gi-ne-bra!” at the top of their lungs despite Brownlee wearing a different uniform and playing for another team. The crowd however, could care less. They simply wanted to cheer for their champion.
“That was very special,” Brownlee gushed when he recalled how passionate the fans were. “I know I’m here in Alab, this is a great team, a great organization and a great company and everything and have great sponsors, [but] it’s always gonna feel great to hear that chant no matter where I am.”
In his first game back in the Philippines, Justin Brownlee felt right at home. The 29-year-old has played basketball in the United States, Italy, and France, but considers the Philippines a very unique place. So when the chance came to represent the country and play in the ABL, he didn’t need to think twice.
“I love it here man. It’s the greatest place I’ve played in the world. You know playing in Europe and in the States for a couple of years, but I just love it here and the fans are great,” he opened up. “They love me and I love them back. Whenever I have the opportunity to play, I’ll definitely try to see and take that opportunity.”
“We need to talk to Gilas (Pilipinas) and tell me to sign them up for the national team,” he added jokingly.
With the ABL season already in full-swing, Tanduay Alab Pilipinas and Justin Brownlee may have found each other just at the right time.