Barangay Ginebra San Miguel’s Justin Brownlee found himself on the winning end against Phoenix Super LPG counterpart Paul Harris in the first face off of the two imports who will forever be linked to a moment that changed the course of PBA history.
Brownlee and the Gin Kings came away with a 125-121 overtime victory that denied Harris a chance to beat his former team for the first time since an injury cut closed the door on his short tour of duty that resulted in the creation of one of the most celebrated careers by an import.
“Paul’s very competitive,” said Brownlee, who had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists during the contest held before 3,454 socially-distant fans at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“He came out there and played very well in that second half, he made some big shots for them that got them back in the game. He’s a great leader. You can see him talking to his teammates all the time so it’s definitely a pleasure playing against him.”
The 2016 Governors’ Cup is best remembered for the conference that saw Ginebra end an eight-year title drought while a new era for the country’s most popular ballclub.
But that run started when Harris injured his finger during Ginebra’s win over GlobalPort to open that year’s campaign.
With Harris ruled out for the rest of the tourney, the Gin Kings immediately searched for a replacement which turned out to be Brownlee, who coach Tim Cone had previously tried to bring the former St. John’s University product while handling San Mig Super Coffee.
As Cone described in a recent interview, the situation became like a Wally Pipp moment, which referred to the former New York Yankees baseball player whose injury led to an opportunity for Lou Gehrig to become one of the greatest of all-time.
Ginebra never looked since, winning four of its last five championships with Brownlee leading the way.
Some can only speculate on the what-ifs had the situation didn’t end in Brownlee’s favor.
Harris acknowledged that the connection between him and Brownlee, but he was just glad to be able to play a competitive game against his fellow import.
“It’s not me versus Justin,” he said. “I know that it will always be attached because of how it happened and his success.
“But, I’ve seen Justin before the game, I said ‘what up?’ and even during the game. And man, he had a great first half against us. But just to compete, that’s just what it is all about. It’s always mutual respect and love for Justin. It was great competing against him.”
What bothered Harris after the game was the way the result slipped out of Phoenix’s hands. The Fuel Masters had a 112-107 with 42 seconds left in regulation when his turnaround and a missed free throw allowed the Gin Kings to force overtime on LA Tenorio’s last-second three.
Harris was so disappointed that he spent the aftermath of the thrilling encounter making 100 free throws even as the PBA crew was working on setting up the layout for the 3×3 tournament.
“I’m hurt, man. I felt like I let my team down,” he said. If I made both free throws, we’d be up four. If I don’t commit the turnover with about maybe 15 seconds left….so that’s a tough one because I wanted to win so badly and came up short.
“That’s a tough, tough loss. I don’t even know if I’m gonna sleep for two days,” added Harris, who is taking an approach of having a “quick memory loss.”