MANILA, Philippines – Friendship will be set aside for the meantime as “brothers” Justin Brownlee and Renaldo Balkman go on an import battle for the 2018 PBA Commissioner’s Cup crown.
The one-two punch in Alab Pilipinas’ title run in the ASEAN Basketball League, Brownlee and Balkman will be on different sides this time as they try to lead Barangay Ginebra and San Miguel, respectively, to the promised land.
Sure, it will be awkward at first after raising a championship trophy together just last May but both will be all business when the best-of-7 series kicks off on Friday, July 27.
“I guess it’s a little weird from being teammates a couple months ago. He’s on the other side now. He’s my brother for life but for right now, he’s an opponent,” said Brownlee.
Balkman couldn’t agree more.
“It’s gonna be a fight to the end. We’re going to give everybody a good show. But I mean, at the same time, we’re both trying to compete to win a championship. May the best man win. It’s showtime,” said Balkman.
A lot is at stake for the two reinforcements in their bid to help their respective squads win the mid-season conference championship.
Balkman is seeking to complete his unfinished business after his 2013 Commissioner’s Cup stint was prematurely ended when he was slapped a lifetime ban for choking teammate Arwind Santos.
It has already been 5 years but fans still seem to connect his name to the incident. He can change all that if Balkman caps off his PBA return with a title. (READ: PBA title can be Balkman’s perfect closure for choking incident, says Santos)
“People are calling it my redemption year. I think it is, and I got a lot to prove. I think I proved to everybody that I’m not that guy that everybody thought I was,” the Puerto Rican said.
Brownlee, on the other hand, is touted to deliver another championship for the league’s crowd darlings.
After towing Ginebra to back-to-back Governor’s Cup championships in the last two years, the team’s legion of fans are expecting nothing less.
Also, the Gin Kings started the conference with a dismal 1-5 record and winning the crown would be the quintessential epitome of the squad’s “Never Say Die” spirit.
“[It] just feels great to be back in the Finals, where we at right now. But we’re not playing just for the Finals, we’re not satisfied, we know we got a tough goal ahead of us,” the American said.
No “I” in team
While focus will be on their import matchup, Balkman said the team with the more collective effort will come out on top.
“There’s no ‘I’ in team. It’s not just me and him out there, one-on-one,” he said.
“We both have offenses that are strong. And between me and him, it’s who will play together as a team that will come out and win.”
Brownlee is preparing for what he calls “one of the most talented teams” in the league.
“(June Mar) Fajardo’s probably the best player to play in the PBA. I don’t know every player that played here but I’ve known a lot – I’ve been doing a lot of research – and he seems to probaly be the best player ever to play in the PBA.”
“They have shooters like (Marcio) Lassiter and (Alex) Cabagnot who can shoot and make plays. Chris Ross who is an excellent defender and Arwind Santos guy who always find a way to hit big shots and make big plays,” Brownlee added.
Game 1 is on Friday, July 27, at the Araneta Coliseum. – Rappler.com
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