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In Its Second Season, Vietnam's Pro Basketball League Continues to Grow

Fresh from the success of its 2016 debut, the Vietnam Basketball Association (VBA) recently began its second season. In addition to an increase in the league’s number of competing teams, the VBA is also seeing more fan interaction, entertainment, and tail-gaiting this year, signaling the arrival of a modern approach to sports in Vietnam.

Vietnam’s first foray into live basketball came back in 2011, when local entrepreneurs Henry Nguyen and Rachan “Butch” Reddy teamed up with Connor Nguyen of the Saigon Sports Academy to found the Saigon Heat, Vietnam’s first professional basketball outfit. From 2012 onward, the team has competed in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL), reaching the end-of-season playoffs every year since 2014.

In 2015, talks started to develop a domestic league in Vietnam, in which the Saigon Heat would act as its driving force, helping new teams both on and off the field with commercial and business decisions, as well as loaning players to new teams to help the level playing field. In recent years, for instance, the team has sent athletes like Ngo Quang Trung, Nguyen Van Hung, and Horace Nguyen to play for the Thang Long Warriors and the Da Nang Dragons, both members of the VBA league.

There were early concerns regarding the competitiveness of new teams versus local powerhouse Saigon Heat, however as Connor, owner and general manager of the team, explains to Saigoneer: “One of the Saigon Heat’s central missions is to develop basketball all over Vietnam. As such, the Saigon Heat tries to do its part to support the pro basketball league which is the VBA.”

The VBA’s first season was a strong success with five teams competing over a 16-game regular season, followed by post-season playoffs. Last year, the Da Nang Dragons caused something of a sporting upset when they cast aside the Saigon Heat in the semi-finals, going on to defeat the Ho Chi Minh City Wings in the 2016 VBA Finals 2-0 (69-55, 85-78).

The Thang Long Warriors face off against the Can Tho Catfish at a recent VBA game. Both teams have seen high attendance so far this season.

To build upon the success of the first season, the VBA has arranged several new sponsorship deals in addition to debuting a new team and emphasizing the importance of fan interaction with its teams and players. Much like the first season, the mindset remains league first, team second. This top-down approach to promoting both the league’s development and the success of individual teams is expected to help grow the sport of basketball in Vietnam.

In fact, Connor says, this philosophy is part of the Saigon Heat’s selection policy. According to the general manager, Saigon Heat players must meet three main criteria: a team-first mindset, an ability to show “kaizen”, a Japanese term meaning constant improvement, and a willingness to give 100%.

“All three of these core values are reflected in the whole organization, not just the basketball team but all the members of the Saigon Heat organisation,” says Connor. 

While the VBA’s inaugural season attracted an impressive number of fans in Hanoi, Da Nang, Saigon and Can Tho, not to mention strong TV viewership, the league also managed to have an almost instant impact on Vietnam’s streets. Although basketball was always popular among young people in Vietnam, the presence of the VBA has helped the sport to gain even more traction. Basketball courts have started appearing where football pitches once were, and pick-up games regularly take place outside of local arenas and in parks around the country.

As the second season gets under way with a brand new Hanoi-based team, the Thang Long Warriors, all of the VBA teams are seeing positive attendance. The Can Tho Catfish drew in almost 1,500 for their first home game of the season, while league newcomers the Thang Long Warriors drew a crowd of 1,400 for their first home game against the HCMC Wings. The Hanoi Buffaloes and Saigon Heat also continue to see over 1,500 spectators per game.

Spectators in Sagion have their choice of two teams: the Ho Chi Minh City Wings play their home games at Ho Xuan Huong Sports Center in District 3, while the Saigon Heat play at the Canadian International School in District 7. 

The league's full game schedules can be found on the VBA website, and tickets are available either on the day at the arena or in advance from Ticketbox.

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