For Norman Black, Brownlee no doubt an all-time PBA great import

Rey Joble

Posted at Mar 18 2022 06:33 AM

For someone who has virtually played and coached against every foreign player in the PBA, Black’s praise of Brownlee (pictured) becomes more significant. PBA Media Bureau
For someone who has virtually played and coached against every foreign player in the PBA, Black’s praise of Brownlee (pictured) becomes more significant. PBA Media Bureau

From great rivals Billy Ray Bates, Bobby Parks, high-scoring imports Larry McNeil and Lew Massey to the finest modern-day reinforcements such as Allen Durham and Justin Brownlee, Norman Black has practically seen them all.

Before he became one of the most successful coaches in the PBA, winning a total of 11 championships, including a Grand Slam in 1989, Black emerged as one of the greatest imports ever to play in Asia's pioneering professional basketball league.

Barely standing 6-foot-5, Black began his PBA career in 1981 while playing for Tefilin.

In 1982, he won his first ever PBA title while playing for the Tommy Manotoc-coached San Miguel Beermen in the 1982 Invitational Tournament, defeating Glenn Hagan and the Crispa Redmanizers.

He won a few more championships when he played as import and coach at the same time for San Miguel Beer.

In 1988, he won two more titles as playing coach/import of the Beermen. He defeated David Thirdkill and the promising Purefoods Hotdogs in a grueling seven-game series, then teamed up with Michael Phelps to beat Parks and Derrick Rowland of Shell in five games of the 1988 Third Conference finals.

Black, who retired as the all-time leading scorer among imports with 11,314 points, recalled some of the greatest moments he had when he was still playing as a PBA reinforcement.

"Just as an import, I had some great moments," Black told ABS-CBN News. "I actually played for two of the greatest coaches to ever to coach in the Philippines. I played under Baby Dalupan for Great Taste Coffee team and, of course, I played under Tommy Manotoc with the San Miguel Beermen."

"So, I didn't realize at that time that these guys were two of the greatest coaches ever, but eventually, my experience with them really paid off because I used some of that experience through my coaching when I became a player-coach." 

Early on, Black was the first import to average over 50 points per game.

"Just by sheer numbers, I think I was the first import to average over 50 points per game," added Black. "I averaged 51 a game in my first year and probably grabbed 24 rebounds a game, which is quite high."

"The entire thing is you were there to reinforce the team and the fact that I joined Tefilin, I joined them because they're an inferior team. While the idea is for me to come in and balance the game a little but that was a good experience for me. It was also the first time in my entire career that I played the entire game. I averaged 48 minutes in that first year."

Black was one of those first high-scoring imports to play in the PBA, but despite the overall skills he displayed, he doesn't consider himself among the most talented reinforcements ever to grace Asia's pioneering professional basketball league.

"I don't consider myself as among the most talented imports, but I may be the most productive. But one thing that has been going for me and that's something I'm very proud of, I thought I was in better shape than anybody on the basketball court," said Black.

"I thought I was in better shape than all of the any other imports. So, playing 48 minutes is something I cherished. I knew I can wear people down and I outran them, so that's one advantage that I have at that time.

"Winning the Best Import award, obviously, was a big deal for me, being chosen as among the best player here as far as reinforcements is concerned."

Twice, Black won the Best Import award (1982 and 1985), until he became a full-time coach in 1990.

Fast forward four decades later, Black, now a league Hall of Famer and head coach of the Meralco Bolts, has witnessed a few more great imports, but picked two in the recent years. 

"Justin Brownlee has to be up there. Allen Durham, even though he hasn't won a championship. He's been very, very good in his stint in the PBA," added Black.

Black picked Brownlee for obvious reasons.

Other than becoming the seventh all-time scoring leader among imports in the PBA after surpassing former Gilbey's Gin and Winston Kings import Larry McNeil, Brownlee has beaten Black's Meralco team in all the three finals encounters they had. 

But Black had seen great qualities in Brownlee that made him distinct among the other imports who played the last 10 years.

"I would say his consistency," added Black. "The fact he produces for his team every game, couple that with his ability to perform well when the pressure is on, and that makes him deserving to be called one of the greatest ever."

Brownlee's feat put him in the company of Black, seven-time Best Import and PBA Hall OF Famer Bobby Parks, Sean Chambers, Lew Massey, Billy Ray Bates and Fancois Wise as the top seven all-time scoring leaders among PBA imports.