June 25, 2024

Magical life hack: Do not ever, ever, ever doubt Justin Brownlee

Magical life hack: Do not ever, ever, ever doubt Justin Brownlee
Art by Royce Nicdao

If there was a zombie apocalypse, Justin Brownlee would outsurvive the zombies. If there was a giant tsunami, Justin Brownlee would surf on it. If the country's sepak takraw team needed a last-minute extra player in the Asian Games, Justin Brownlee would backflip his way over there. If there was a runaway groom at a wedding, Justin Brownlee might even consider taking over.

As the great Kobe Bryant said, "If you see me fighting a bear, pray for the bear."

That was Brownlee in Gilas Pilipinas' cardiac conquest of China in the semifinals of the Asian Games on Wednesday evening. Just when everyone thought the national team was already dead in the water, Brownlee singlehandedly willed Gilas Pilipinas to victory by the slimmest of margins, 77-76. That set a date with Jordan for the gold medal.

The tough-as-nails forward let out a primal scream and clenched his muscles when China's last-gasp shot clanked off the rim at the final buzzer. It was probably the most emotion Brownlee has ever shown in his life. He's always been even-keeled. He's like a rainbow mandala—a symbol of peace and balance. 

But with the way he went all out, all heart against China, erasing a 20-point lead in front of a raucous crowd ready to burst into pandemonium, Brownlee deserved to go off emotionally. As they say, silent water runs deep.

After the game, what coach Tim Cone wanted to do to Brownlee was exactly what the entire archipelago probably wanted as well.

"That was too much! I gotta do something else for you too. Give you a kiss, hug you, I don't know what," said Cone, as he and his longtime reinforcement shared yet another special moment.

For the second straight day, Brownlee, in his 35-year-old legs, saved Gilas Pilipinas. He waxed hot early in the quarterfinals against Iran, only to see their sizable lead get extinguished in the fourth quarter. But Brownlee sank the eventual game-winning jumper, as they escaped, 84-83. Against China, it was them who had to go on an exhausting run to pull off the wild win by a solitary point. 

Two straight games. Two straight one-point wins. Two game-winners. One common denominator.

"(It was) like the first quarter of (the quarterfinals game against) Iran all over again, except he (Brownlee) did it on the fourth quarter, on the third straight day of playing!" said Cone, emphatically showing his three fingers. "He was able to step up and hit those shots. That is amazing."

"Just keep fighting, keep battling. Coach Tim told us before the game that we had to do something special to win this game. It was a special win for us. Special game, special effort, special team," said Brownlee. "It feels so surreal."

Amazing. Surreal. Special. Those are adjectives usually used for something mystical. And JB was every bit of that on Wednesday night. Just when everyone thought he would be shackled by China's tough defense, as he only scored six points in the first half, Brownlee said: I got this. 

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He went berserker barrage in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 points built on five three-pointers—one crazier than the other. It was like a sports movie crescendoing to a climax. He dove for loose balls, disrupted passing lanes, closed out on defenders, and defied every sense of logic.  

They were all a prelude to arguably the biggest shot of his career. Mere mortals would've buckled from the magnitude of the moment. Down by two points. Versus a bitter rival. In the opponent's territory. The clock running down. Against two defenders. Falling away. Fire. Swish. Game.

Watching JB refuse to lose—also a life lesson, really—was almost a religious experience. 

"It just feels good to be alive in contention for that gold medal," said Brownlee.

If there was a life-and-death situation, Justin Brownlee would probably make death run for its life.

(With reports from Carlo Pamintuan, One Sports)