MANILA, Philippines – With every conference that he plays in the PBA, Barangay Ginebra's Justin Brownlee continues to climb the ranks of the great imports who have played in the league.
He is already sixth all-time in scoring among all imports in PBA history, with 4,366 points. In their upcoming PBA Governors' Cup Finals series against Meralco, Brownlee has a chance to surpass one of the most prolific imports the league has ever seen -- the legendary Billy Ray Bates, who compiled 4,523 in his career in the 1980s.
Brownlee is well aware of the magnitude of such an achievement, should he reach it.
"From what I've seen and studied, that's an elite group, and a lot of great imports in that top five, for sure," the American said on Monday. "To be recognized with those guys is definitely an honor and a blessing, because I've done my research on all those guys."
"And all of them were great, and had a great impact on this league. So just to be mentioned is incredible, and I'm honored," he added.
The man at the very top of the import scoring list will be at the opposing sideline when Brownlee tries to lead Barangay Ginebra to another Governors' Cup crown. Meralco coach Norman Black still holds the import scoring record, with a whopping 11,329 points.
"Man, he scored a lot of points," Brownlee said of Black, considered among the greatest imports to ever play in the league.
Brownlee is well aware of the impact that Black has had on the PBA, not only during his time as an import but also as a coach. Indeed, Black's career has inspired Brownlee, who is hoping that he can one day follow in the footsteps of the multi-titled mentor.
"Norman Black is a guy for sure, I look up to, especially playing as an import in this league. And hopefully, maybe even one day, hopefully, the opportunity if I get it, to be a coach in this league," Brownlee revealed.
"A guy like Norman Black, he's what you think of when you think of a great import here in the PBA," he added. "He's won championships, if I'm not mistaken as a player and coach, right? And he's got Best Import awards and all of that. So, he's somebody that I look up to and that I'm inspired by."
Black, for his part, has nothing but respect for Brownlee even as the Ginebra import has repeatedly broken Meralco's hearts in the Governors' Cup over the past five years. For the coach, there is no question that Brownlee already belongs in the very upper echelon of PBA imports.
"He's a great player, and he deserves all the credit he's getting for helping Ginebra win," said Black. "I think the thing that I respect about him the most is he's always there when it counts. He delivers when the game's on the line, he scores important points."
"But more importantly than his performance and his production, I just like his attitude," he also said. "He's good for the league, he's good for the fans, he's humble. He's not yabang, and I think that's a breath of fresh air, actually."
When informed of Brownlee's desire to also pursue coaching, Black says the Ginebra import has an important attribute that will lead to success in that particular path.
"I have a lot of respect for him, I believe he's one of the best to ever play in the Philippines," said Black. "And if he does have any aspirations to be a coach in the future, I think he'll be a great coach."
"[It's because of his] character. He's really good, but he doesn't tell you he's really good. But we all know he's really good. He's very humble, and I think when you're trying to manage people, people respect that," he added.
"Yabang can only go so far, and people get tired of it already. But those who are humble despite the fact they're pretty talented, they gain the respect of people, and people follow you, if you have that type of attitude. And he has that."
There is one thing that Black is quite certain of, however. His scoring mark is safe from Brownlee's pursuit.
"He may not catch those numbers because those numbers are kind of big," said Black, who played as an import from 1981 to 1990. "He may have to play here until he's about 50, maybe, to get those types of numbers."
"But he's just a really good player. He's beaten me three times already so I'm a witness, I've seen it happen. The goal this time is to beat him and win a championship," he also said.