22 November, 2021
28 February, 2023
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Justin Brownlee's world stage dreams now within reach, thanks to the Philippines

MANILA (Philippines) - Clad in a crisp Barong Tagalog, Justin Brownlee appeared before the Senate and took his oath of allegiance to the Philippines.

It happened barely 24 hours after towing his club, Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, to the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Commissioner's Cup crown but he was all smiles, still, visibly elated as he can finally call himself a Filipino following a tedious process that lasted for months.

“That's always been a goal of mine growing up. To come here to the Philippines, and make this basically my home now, that goal for me is still alive.
The Philippines made that possible.”- Justin Brownlee


The 34-year-old took on a juggling act by attending congressional hearings right after team practices but didn't mind any of that as he's always wanted to earn citizenship in a country that has become his second home.

Now, Brownlee has been named to the 24-player preliminary pool for Window 6 of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 Asian Qualifiers, and he couldn't be any more honored and grateful to have been blessed with such an opportunity.


After all, he never thought that he would taste the sweetest of successes in this part of the world, thousands of miles away from where he came from -- he wasn't even sure if he'd stay for over a month since first arriving in 2016.

What more to represent it?


Brownlee knew since he was younger that he wanted to play ball, and that love for the game that grew within brought the Tifton, Georgia native to places.

From two JuCo stints before finishing his college career in D1 school St. John's, he would see himself playing in Mexico before going back home for the NBA Summer League and the D-League, with runs in the ABA in between.

"It's always been a dream of mine. Basketball is a big-time love for me, so it was really just for the love of the game," he said. "And, you know, of course, wanting to provide for myself and my family and things like that."

"But overall, it was just for the love of the game. I've been playing since I was, as I remember, five or six years old. I just really wanted to continue playing."

As much as he was fulfilling a lifelong dream, there came a point where doing so was no longer as fun and as enjoyable as it was, he admitted.

"It was a rough patch playing in the D-League," admitted Brownlee, who went undrafted in the 2011 NBA Draft but played for the Maine Red Claws in the D-League in 2011-12 before joining the Erie Bayhawks two seasons later.

"You wanted to be at the highest level possible. But you just gotta understand that the players gotta work to get there," he furthered.

After the D-League, Brownlee found himself packing his bags for Europe, where he would spend the next two years -- first with Basket Brescia Leonessa in Italy (2014-15), then with French team Elan Chalon (2015-16).

Little did he know then that an opportunity would open up on the other side of the globe later, one that would alter the course of his life.


Ginebra head coach Tim Cone was scrambling for a replacement import player when former Syracuse standout Paul Harris went down with a finger injury right in his first game in the 2016 Governors' Cup of the PBA season.

So, he reached out to late agent Sheryl Reyes to seek. Multiple names were brought up and discussed, and they eventually ended up with Brownlee, who was in Las Vegas back then but was not playing in the Summer League.

The champion mentor, it turned out, had been familiar with the 1.93 M (6'4") forward as he had already scouted him years back. Furthermore, 'JB,' as he's fondly called, is actually a good pal of Harris as they were former teammates in the D-League.

Reyes then asked him if he was willing to play in the Philippines, and he agreed. Shortly after, he was already in Manila, all set to join his new team.

About three months later, Brownlee etched his name in his clubs' lore for ending the club's eight-year title drought in dramatic fashion: a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer to beat the Meralco Bolts in the Finals' Game 6, 91-88.


Right before his very eyes, he became a hero to many. From signing just a one-month contract, he would turn out to be the a resident reinforcement -- as well as a fixture in this part of Southeast Asia -- for years to come.

Fast forward to now and Brownlee is about to play in his 6th season in the PBA (10 conferences) with his team, looking to add to his rich collection of PBA championships that now has six -- tied for the most number of titles by a foreign player.


Aside from three PBA Best Import awards, also in his trophy case is a 2018 ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) crown, which he won with San Miguel Alab Pilipinas together with Gilas guard Ray Parks and Puerto Rican star Renaldo Balkman.


Brownlee never imagined one bit that he would find the kind of success he's been enjoying when he took up the offer.

"I gotta be honest, no. I didn't see this coming," said the 12-year pro, whose PBA and ABL success led to a tenure with Al Riyadi in 2019 that ended with a championship run in the Lebanese Basketball League.


"I worked hard and worked for it every single day. but I didn't think I'd had this -- not necessarily this good, but I didn't think I'd had this much success in the Philippines," he added. "I couldn't even imagine this."


Sooner or later, Brownlee will see himself part of something bigger: playing for the Philippines.


He's being eyed to lead the Philippines in Window 6 of the FIBA World Cup 2023 Asian Qualifiers in February, where they will be hosting Lebanon and Jordan at the cavernous Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.

So, from realizing his dreams in club competitions, Brownlee is about to witness another wish of his get granted: playing on the international stage.

"Very cool," he said. "Like I said, I didn't expect any of this. I'm just very blessed and honored to be able to represent the country."

Doing so has actually been a goal of his while growing up in the States, a nation that has long been dominating global hoops since time immemorial.

Brownlee will be checking that off his bucket list, and he's just immensely thankful for the Philippines, who's one of the co-hosts of this year's World Cup.

"Growing up in the U.S., you always wanted to play in certain games like that as far as international, whether it's the Olympics or the World [Cup] or the Asian Games -- you know, any type of international play," he said.

"That's always been a goal of mine growing up. To come here to the Philippines, and make this basically my home now, that goal for me is still alive. The Philippines made that possible," added Brownlee.

"I'm just very honored and blessed for the Philippines to accept me like they have, and to be presented with the opportunities they've given me."


With all that he's achieved thus far, there should be no question that Brownlee has already built himself an illustrious basketball career.

And no one, he believes, would be prouder than his younger self, considering that the future, at one point, appeared bleak for him.

"I think the younger me would be looking at me today as an overachiever," offered the soft-spoken athlete, who's won a total of nine club titles.

"Like, I think, for myself, the potential was there and I believed in myself to accomplish anything but the cards I was dealt especially growing up, it wasn't the best hand. And I couldn't see a bright future for myself."

Surely, Young Justin would be in awe should he see the future him -- a distinguished gentleman known not just for winning, but for his humility.

"I could tell myself that I'm proud of myself for what I've become," said Brownlee. "I just would be very proud of myself, to be honest, if the 16-year-old me or my younger self could look at me now."