Brownlee formula

The issue surrounding Justin Brownlee is a major blackeye to Philippine basketball.

It is yet another heartbreaker for Filipinos, who were hoping and praying to see the national team reassert its dominance in the international arena.

For the longest time, the Filipinos had struggled internationally.

In the Asian Games, for instance, the Philippines emerged victorious in its first four editions — 1951 in New Delhi, 1954 in Manila, 1958 in Tokyo, and 1962 in Jakarta before suffering a string of frustrating finishes.

The closest we got to the gold medal was in 1990 when the Basketball Association of the Philippines tasked the Philippine Basketball Association with assembling a team that would reclaim our Asian glory.

It was a tall order at the time as the Philippines was coming off a bitter setback at the hands of Malaysia in the 1989 Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur. The BAP knew that only an Asian crown would soothe the pain of a nation craving revenge.

But it didn’t happen.

Coached by Robert “Sonny” Jaworski, the team bannered by Allan Caidic, Benjie Paras, Ramon Fernandez, Samboy Lim, and Chito Loyzaga surrendered to powerhouse China featuring Shan Tao and Ma Jian in the gold medal match.

Eight years later, Tim Cone was given the marching orders to assemble another star-studded squad to represent the country in the Bangkok Asian Games in 1998.

But like Jaworski, his bitter coaching nemesis at the time, Cone was also unsuccessful as his Centennial Team had to settle for bronze behind China and South Korea.

In the next edition in Busan in 2002, hopes were high.

Despite a sudden coaching change after American mentor Ron Jacobs suffered a stroke in the final stretch of preparations, Jong Uichico was still able to form a solid team that had a mix of Filipino-foreign stars like Asi Taulava, Eric Menk, and Rudy Hatfield, as well as homegrown stars like Olsen Racela, Kenneth Duremdes, and Danny Ildefonso.

But fate wrote a cruel script.

The Philippines was ahead, 68-66, in the final 23.9 seconds of the semifinal clash against South Korea. A victory would have sent the Filipinos to the gold medal match against China, while a setback would relegate them to a battle for bronze against Kazakhstan.

Racela was at the charity stripe for a chance to ice the game and seal the victory. But he missed both free shots.

In a shocking — and heartbreaking — turn of events, Korean gunner Lee Sang Min buried a long three-pointer off a broken play at the buzzer that sent the host country to the finals.

The players were crushed while a river of tears flowed through the streets of Manila as the entire country couldn’t believe how merciless the basketball gods could be.

Since then, Philippine basketball has been reduced to a mere footnote in Asian basketball.

We bombed out of the medal podium in Doha in 2006 and Guangzhou in 2010. We even suffered international embarrassment when head coach Chot Reyes instructed naturalized player Marcus Douthit to shoot at our own basket in Incheon in 2014.

In 2018, a legitimate National Basketball Association campaigner, Jordan Clarkson, came along and was billed as the hero who would save Philippine basketball.

But he was unsuccessful. The Filipinos’ string of misfortunes continued as Gilas Pilipinas settled for fifth place.

Then here came Brownlee, tapped to see action as a naturalized player in the Hangzhou Asian Games.

The 35-year-old American was tasked to power a team already familiar to him — guys he had been playing with for more than five years. The coach — Cone — had been his mentor since he arrived in Manila in 2016 and led Barangay Ginebra San Miguel to six PBA titles while winning three Best Import honors.

There was no honeymoon period to speak of. He hit the ground running.

The result was impressive as Brownlee dropped 36 points to lead Gilas Pilipinas to a razor-thin 84-83 win over Iran in the quarterfinals, before dropping back-to-back three-point bombs in their miraculous 77-76 victory over host China in the semifinals.

The Filipinos won their first gold medal in 61 years following a 70-60 victory over Jordan in the final, but an asterisk was attached to the victory after Brownlee tested positive for Carboxy-THC, a banned substance linked to the use of cannabis.

At this point, it is unknown whether Brownlee will contest the findings or how long his possible suspension will be.

What is clear is that Brownlee made a tremendous impact on Philippine basketball as he proved that the best way to win an international title is to field a naturalized player who is very familiar with the Filipinos’ style of play.

Brownlee may not be as exciting and flashy as Clarkson or as tall as Douthit and Blatche, but he knows Philippine basketball like the back of his hand.

It’s time for the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas to create more Justin Brownlees by recruiting young foreign players who are willing to stay in the country for a longer period — not just to earn and play as imports in the PBA — but to win the hearts and minds of these basketball-crazy Filipinos.

Brownlee’s professional career is in great peril, and we may not see him don the Gilas or Ginebra jerseys again.

But we should always remember his most significant contribution to Philippine basketball.

Nope, it wasn’t the incredible play he delivered against China or how he stood his ground against Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and the powerful Jordanians that led to the country’s first Asian Games title in 61 years.

His most important contribution was the idea that to gain international success, the federation must recruit a naturalized player not based on skills, height, or popularity but on his love, respect, and dedication to the country he wishes to represent.

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