The upcoming best-of-seven finals of the 2023 PBA Governor’s Cup between Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and the TNT Tropang Giga is expected to go down as a classic series between two of the best teams in the league today.
Aside from the high quality match-up between these two deep rosters though, the quest of Ginebra reinforcement Justin Brownlee to become the winningest import in PBA history is likely to be a dominant narrative hanging over the finals.
Brownlee is currently tied with iconic import Sean Chambers at six championships and a win over Ginebra will give him sole possession of the record. Chambers won his titles in the 1990s playing for the now-defunct Alaska franchise, including a grand slam in 1996, while Brownlee has similarly won all of his playing for just one team.
What makes Brownlee’s PBA stint even more impressive though is that he has an unblemished 6-0 record in the PBA Finals. His latest championship came just last January in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup after Ginebra outlasted the formidable Bay Area Dragons, a guest team last conference, in seven games.
In Game 7 against Bay Area, Brownlee put Ginebra on his shoulders and carried them to the finish line. Brownlee, who will turn 35 years old later this month, poured in 34 points, eight rebounds, and 12 assists in the deciding contest.
The naturalized Filipino forward has carried over his momentum to this conference where he is averaging 27.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 7.4 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game.
However, despite Ginebra’s recent run of success and Brownlee’s history of brilliance, the crowd favorites enter this upcoming series against TNT as the underdogs. The Tropang Giga went 10-1 in the elimination round to finish in first place, powered by the spectacular play of their import Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
The 6’6 forward is a six-year NBA veteran and came in as a replacement import for TNT midway through the regular season. He has been a match-up nightmare since his arrival, averaging 31 points, 12 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 2.4 steals, and one block per game.
Furthermore, Hollis-Jefferson seems to be growing more comfortable with the Tropang Giga. This was evidenced by his impressive 42-point outing in the Tropang Giga’s Game 4 win in their semifinal series against the Meralco Bolts that booked their ticket to the finals.
Hollis-Jefferson, who is seven years Brownlee’s junior, is the perfect foil for the beloved Ginebra import and has shown in his interviews that he is more than willing to play the villain role in this showdown.
An added wrinkle in this face-off is that the idea of Hollis-Jefferson suiting up as a naturalized player for the Philippine Men’s Basketball Team, more popularly known as Gilas Pilipinas, has been floated around because of his strong play. Brownlee currently serves as one of Gilas’ naturalized players and is likely to come out even more motivated against a player who could potentially replace him.
This upcoming showdown between Brownlee and Hollis-Jefferson should go down as one for the books. In one corner, Brownlee is going for history as he tries to improve his PBA Finals record to 7-0 and break his tie with Chambers. In the other corner, Hollis-Jefferson is looking to make his mark on the Philippine basketball history books and potentially kick off a long career here akin to Brownlee.
The PBA Finals begin on Easter Sunday, April 8, with both teams well rested from the Holy Week break and ready to come out swinging.