Entrepreneur Henry Nguyen has never been accused of thinking small.
Wearing multiple hats as the co-owner of the Saigon Heat basketball team as well as being a managing partner of the new Los Angeles FC franchise in Major League Soccer, he brings a certain vision to each new venture. And this is translating into a shift about how Vietnamese fans view basketball.
The six-team league has added its newest franchise, the Thang Long Warriors in Hanoi, and is a reflection of the appetite for professional basketball in that market, he says.
“(Before the VBA) friends in Hanoi were asking ‘when are we going to get a team up here?’” Henry recalls during a chat at his office in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. “Hanoi and Saigon are both big enough to support two sets of fans and it’s always exciting to have an intra-city derby.
“Our ambition over time is that this grows to be an eight, 10, 12, maybe a 16-team league.”
This boom in the game has led to nationwide interest in local squads in Hanoi, Danang, Ho Chi Minh City and Can Tho. A dispersal draft for the arrival of the Warriors led to some players moving around, with the Warriors selecting heritage player Justin Young, and acquiring Heat forward Nguyen Van Hung, who will return to the Heat when the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) season kicks off at the end of the year.
The defending champion Danang Dragons will still build on the presence of ABL veterans Stefan Nguyen and Horace Nguyen, while the Can Tho Catfish will key on Tam Dinh and his brother Sang. The rationale was to ensure every franchise has a shot at winning a title every year.
“Five years ago, I looked around and kids were playing soccer and tennis,” says Henry, reflecting on the growth of the game since 2012 when he brought the Heat’s ABL team together. “It’s important for the league for there to be parity and competitiveness.”
The second season of the Vietnam Basketball Association (VBA) is set to get rolling at the conclusion of the SEA Games this month in Malaysia. Several VBA players will be on the national team roster, notably Ho Chi Minh City Wings stars Trieu Han Minh and Nguyen Thanh Nhan, Hanoi Buffalo Nguyen Tien Duong, and Hung of the newly formed Warriors. The official VBA website is at vba.vn. An English language website focusing on ASEAN basketball can be found at http://www.asia-basket.com/Vietnam/basketball-League-VBA.asp