Philippine basketball

Becoming Filipino: How Brownlee turned to ‘Justin Noypi’

Philip Matel

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Becoming Filipino: How Brownlee turned to ‘Justin Noypi’

DEBUT. Justin Brownlee plays his first game for Gilas Pilipinas.


Get to know more about naturalized Filipino player Justin Brownlee, the well-loved Ginebra mainstay who’s carrying the fight for Gilas Pilipinas in the Asian Games

MANILA, Philippines — Justin Brownlee may be no stranger to Philippine basketball fans, but the naturalized Filipino continues to surprise with his on-court heroics, this time, on the international floor. 

Brownlee delivered yet again for Gilas Pilipinas in the Asian Games in Hangzhou, lifting the country out of a 20-point hole for a 77-76 semifinal escape against no less than defending champion host China.

The well-loved Barangay Ginebra star essayed a masterful clutch performance – churning in 17 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter – including back-to-back triples in the closing seconds that gave Gilas their first and only lead of the night on the way to the win that secured them a spot in the gold-medal match against Jordan.

It was the second straight game where Brownlee scored the game-winner for the Philippines, as he drilled a tough floater from the baseline to tow Gilas to an 84-83 heist against a feisty Iran side in the quarterfinal. He finished with 36 points.

And it looks like there will be more brilliance in store as the self-nicknamed “Justin Noypi” has clearly embraced carrying the fight for his new home country. 

Get to know more about the fan-favorite kababayan:

Second home

Brownlee officially became a Filipino citizen by virtue of Republic Act (RA) 11937 signed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in January 2023.

It was a fairly quick process by Congress, with the House of Representatives and the Senate approving House Bill 6224 without any amendments on December 12, 2022.

“As a citizen, I will try my best to make the Filipino people proud,” said Brownlee. “I want to keep making you guys proud and to do whatever I can to help the national team.”

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During the proceedings, Brownlee personally appeared before both chambers of Congress in a barong Tagalog, and posed with the Philippine flag after his bill was approved on third and final reading by the Senate.

It was the second time that the proposed law was filed, with the first being done so in August 2018, but lapsed during the 18th Congress.

“Brownlee has now deemed the Philippines as his second home and has demonstrated a strong desire to contribute to the country as a future player of our Gilas Pilipinas squad,” Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) chairman and Senator Sonny Angara said then.

Gilas debut

Brownlee debuted for Gilas Pilipinas in the sixth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers in February 2023, where he averaged 29 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists, including a 41-point explosion against Jordan.

“I had a lot of joy playing with the guys and representing the flag and putting the Philippines on my chest. It is a life memory that I’ll cherish,” said Brownlee after his maiden Philippine team run.

In the 19th Asian Games, Brownlee was deemed eligible to play for the Philippines by the Hangzhou organizing committee after he was included by the SBP in its men’s basketball lineup.

The 6-foot-7 stalwart carried a Philippine passport, the primary requirement of the Olympic Council of Asia for athletes to play for their respective countries.

Last May, Brownlee also helped Gilas reclaim the gold in the 32nd Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia, exploding for 34 points in the semifinal against Indonesia before dropping 23 against Cambodia in the title match. 

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Early life

Born on April 23, 1988, in Georgia, United States, Brownlee bounced from school to school in college, ultimately ending up with St. John’s University in New York.

Undrafted in the 2011 NBA Draft, Brownlee honed his craft in the NBA Development League (now G League), signing with the Maine Red Claws.

He joined the New York Knicks in the 2012 NBA Summer League, where he played for two years, and was even signed to a contract before being waived in October 2013.

Brownlee then went to the Knicks’ then-D League affiliate, the Erie Bayhawks, where he averaged 13.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.4 steals.

After a stint with the Charlotte Hornets in the NBA Summer League in 2015, he played in Europe before finding his way to the Philippines.

Replacement PBA import

Not the original choice for Barangay Ginebra’s import in the 2016 PBA Governors’ Cup, Brownlee was brought in as a replacement for the injured Paul Harris.

Harris suffered a hyperextended thumb open fracture after attempting a block.

Brownlee was more than capable of taking Ginebra to the championship series, going toe-to-toe with eventual Best Import Allen Durham of Meralco in the finals.

Representing Ginebra, of course, is a huge thing – it’s a big deal as far as basketball is concerned over here in the Philippines

Despite being nosed out by Durham in individual honors, Brownlee claimed the gold when he nailed a line drive pull-up triple to end Ginebra’s eight-year title drought, 91-88, before 22,528 spectators at the Araneta Coliseum in Game 6.

The two teams had a rematch in the 2017 PBA Governors’ Cup, with Durham again taking Best Import Honors, but it was Brownlee and the crowd favorites taking the championship once again, winning Game 7, 101-96, before a then-record 54,086 fans at the Philippine Arena.

Before the 2018 PBA Commissioner’s Cup, Brownlee linked up with Renaldo Balkman to lead San Miguel Alab Pilipinas to the 2018 ABL championship, defeating Thailand’s Mono Vampire in Santa Rosa, Laguna.

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Smallest import

In the 2018 PBA midseason conference, Brownlee won his first Best Import award, the smallest import to be accorded the distinction.

The Gin Kings ousted San Miguel in the title round, 4-2, behind Finals MVP Scottie Thompson.

Brownlee also played in a Mighty Sports-sponsored team in the 30th Dubai International Basketball Tournament, along with two-time NBA champion Lamar Odom.

Just before returning to Ginebra for the 2019 PBA Commissioner’s Cup, Brownlee played in Lebanon with club team Al Riyadi as a mid-season signee, helping lead the team to a championship.

Brownlee returned for the Commissioner’s Cup, where he scored at will — recording 49 points, 20 rebounds, and 7 assists during a win against rival Magnolia.

Already a fan favorite, he also emerged with a career-high 50 points in an overtime win against the Columbian Dyip.

Ginebra fell short of reaching the title round this time against Terrence Jones and the TNT KaTropa.

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Perennial champion

For the third time in his career, Brownlee faced the Meralco Bolts in the championship series, prevailing over their hobbled opponents led by Best Import Allen Durham, 4-1, in the 2019 PBA Governors’ Cup finals.

Following pandemic-ravaged seasons that did not feature imports, Brownlee returned to Ginebra just in time for the 2021 PBA Governors’ Cup.

The long tournament, which lasted for over four months due to pandemic-related suspension, Ginebra faced Meralco once again in the championship round.

Brownlee was hailed as the tournament’s Best Import, with the team defeating perennial opponents Meralco in the finals, 4-2.

Now a perfect 5-of-5 in PBA championship series, Brownlee faced an opponent of a different kind in the 2023 PBA Commissioner’s Cup.

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5,000-point club

Several career milestones were met when he became the fifth import ever to score at least 5,000 points, and the first to tally 300 steals in December 2022.

After beating Magnolia in the semifinals, Ginebra faced guest team Bay Area Dragons in a best-of-seven championship affair.

Before a record crowd of 54,589 at the Philippine Arena, Ginebra stifled the Dragons, 101-86, to go 6-of-6 in championship appearances.

However, the record was snapped when Ginebra yielded to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and the TNT Tropang Giga in six games during the 2022-2023 PBA Governors’ Cup.

Will we see a repeat of that in the Asian Games when Brownlee faces the Jordanians led by Hollis-Jefferson? Or will coach Tim Cone and crew write another story this time? –

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