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MANILA, Philippines – Months have passed, but Justin Brownlee still could not wrap his head around being hailed a national hero after leading Gilas Pilipinas to a historic Asian Games title.
Brownlee received a warm welcome at the Araneta Coliseum as he showed up in the PBA finals on Friday, February 9, for his first public appearance in the country since he failed a doping test and served a three-month suspension.
“It is just humbling. I never thought that someone would look at me as a hero. I just go out there and try my hardest,” Brownlee told reporters on Friday.
Brownlee reveled in the admiration of fans who thanked the Barangay Ginebra import for propelling the Philippines to its first Asian Games crown since 1962 in Hangzhou, China, last October.
“It feels good. Been waiting for this moment for the past few months. Happy to come back and be greeted with a lot of love,” he said.
Brownlee, a naturalized Filipino for more than a year now, earned his place among the most revered figures in Philippine sports following his exploits in the Asian Games.
Putting the team on his back against host China in the semifinals, Brownlee erupted for 17 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter as the Philippines completed its comeback from a 20-point deficit to hack out a 77-76 win.
Brownlee then delivered an all-around effort of 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists in a 70-60 victory over Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jordan in the finale, helping end Gilas Pilipinas’ decades-long search for the elusive gold.
“Somebody calling you a hero definitely makes you feel like you accomplished something bigger than life almost,” said Brownlee.
“There is nothing that makes me happier than seeing all the Filipinos happy – all the fans, teammates, coaches,” he said.
His suspension lifted, Brownlee will suit up for the Philippines in the opening window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers against Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei on February 22 and 25, respectively. – Rappler.com