Justin Brownlee soaked in the adulation from the crowd Friday as he strode into the Smart-Araneta Coliseum during Game 4 of the PBA Season 48 Commissioner's Cup Finals. It was Brownlee's first public appearance in the Philippines since he failed a doping test at last year's Asian Games and drew a three-month suspension, which expired Friday. Judging from the crowd's reaction, all has been forgiven and forgotten.
"I've been waiting for this moment for the past few months and I'm happy to come back and be greeted with a lot of love," Brownlee said. "It's good to be back in the Philippines all around. I've been waiting for this moment for a while and I'm just happy to be back."
Fresh off leading Gilas Pilipinas to the Philippines' first Asian Games men's basketball gold medal in 61 years, Brownlee was notified that he had tested positive for a banned substance found in cannabis during a random drug test after the gold medal match.
Brownlee had to wait for a decision on his punishment, even as he did not contest the finding and voluntarily agreed to serve a provisional suspension.
"Mentally, it was very tough, just not knowing whatever the outcome may be," he said. "A lot of days and nights just thinking about it, feeling sorry for myself. But at the end of the day, it was something where you get knocked down or you get set back, you just gotta try to stay positive and move forward. Physically, I just tried to stay in the best shape that I can."
Eventually, he was handed a three-month suspension, which he served in the United States. He used the time to rest and recover.
"I was recovering the first half of the three months, just getting my ankle back right. But I practiced every day mostly, and spent time with family."
His suspension also meant he was unable to suit up for Barangay Ginebra in the Commissioner's Cup. Gilas and Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone has assured Brownlee of a spot on the team in the next import-laden conference.
"I can't wait for that moment," Brownlee said. "I'm older now, I'm not a young guy. So every opportunity you get to play, especially for me playing for Ginebra, I'm at that age when you'll never know. Things can happen, borrowed time can happen. So every opportunity I get, I'm just trying to make the most out of it. I can't wait to out on that Ginebra jersey again.
Brownlee will play for Gilas in the first window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2025 qualifiers, which starts on Feb. 22. Gilas will start practice on Feb. 15.
"My ankle is feeling a whole lot better from those four months ago," Brownlee said. "Right now, I feel good. I feel rested. I feel healthy."
Brownlee's Asian Games performance will go down as one of the most memorable in Philippine basketball history, and he's cherishing every moment of it.
Brownlee said the new Gilas team assembled by Cone is dynamic and he can't wait to start a new chapter with them.
"They're young, athletic, energetic. Some of the best talent in the Philippines right now. Coach Tim, he likes to build," Brownlee said. "The next three or four years, I really think Philippine basketball is definitely gonna be on the rise even more."