When you hear the word “rivalry,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? This is no tortoise and the hare, nor is it David versus Goliath. Rivalries fuel sports.
Think about some of the well-known rivalries that are prominent in the sports world: Lakers versus Celtics; Real Madrid versus Barcelona; Federer versus Nadal; Yankees versus Red Sox.
What do they share in common? Why do even the most casual of fans know them?
There’s something about a rivalry that generates attention; something that brings about excitement; something that induces remembrance.
At this time, you may be asking yourself, “What is the relevance of this?”
Well, with the inaugural season of the VBA (Vietnam Basketball Association) underway, there just so happens to be a rivalry brewing right before our eyes; one that pits two inner city teams against one another: the Ho Chi Minh City Wings and the Saigon Heat.
Every team has their well-known players. Fans flock to the sweat-laden arms of the Ho Chi Minh City Wings’ Justin Young and Jaywuan Hill after games, tagging them in pictures on social media, hoping for some kind of acknowledgement afterwards.
For the Saigon Heat, you could probably say it would be David “Viet” Arnold and Darrell Miller. Though these teams have only played each other twice so far, with the Heat holding a 2-0 advantage over the Wings, there definitely is a feeling in the air that these games mean more.
Attend a Saigon Heat home game at CIS (Canadian International School) in district 7 of Ho Chi Minh City and you will hear fans chanting “SAI-GON HEAT!” to a 3-beat count; conversely, attend a Ho Chi Minh City Wings game at Ho Xuan Huong Sports Stadium in district 3 of “Saigon” and you will hear fans chanting “CI-TY WINGS!” to that same 3-beat count.
Now attend a game between the two and that same 3-beat chant becomes so inter-mixed that it’d be easier to distinguish the lyrics to an EDM song at a barrier-less music festival with adjacent stages.
That’s the power that this rivalry brings to the crowd as if the Berlin Wall-esque separation of purple and red wasn’t already evident enough.
In attendance, you can feel the aura not only amongst the fans in the thick of the sold out arena, but also on the hardwood through the emotion, heart, and intensity of the players.
Let’s take a moment to focus on the stats of Saigon Heat’s undisputed star, David Arnold.
His first game coming back from injury was a home game win for the Heat on August, 13, 2016, against the Wings where he went for 18 points, 3 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 block, and only 1 turnover in only 23 minutes of action.
In the next game against the Can Tho Catfish, a Heat home game, Arnold went for a measly 6 point, 2 rebound, 10 assist, and 5 turnover performance in 32 minutes of game time.
The following game against the Hanoi Buffaloes, another Heat home game, Arnold once again posted pedestrian numbers of 11 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, and 2 steals to go along with 4 turnovers in 29 minutes.
In an away game at the Wings on August 31, 2016, Arnold rose to the occasion, dropping 32 points, grabbing 3 boards, dishing out 7 dimes, and adding a bit of defense in the form of 1 steal and 1 block while committing 4 turnovers in 36 minutes of game time.
As for the game following that against the Catfish? You guessed it, 5 points, 4 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 steal, and 4 turnovers.
Attribute it to a fall-off after his first game back from injury or maybe a stingy Buffaloes zone defense. However, there does seem to be some correlation here: the rivalry with the Wings “fueled” his Heat drive.
Now this may just be one example amongst a larger sample pool, but given the experience that Arnold has playing in Vietnam, he makes for an exemplary lab rat.
It may be too early to rank this as rivalry amongst the likes of those that are seen in other sports and leagues internationally, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t get excited seeing these two teams matchup on the schedule.
The VBA is still in its baby steps, but a rivalry is just what the league needs to be able to tip-toe its way out of mommy and daddy’s ever watchful eyes for a late night date. Perhaps come playoffs time, this rivalry can further come to fruition and give fans the excitement and anticipation that every sports league has.
You can refer to Vietnam’s biggest city as “Ho Chi Minh” or “Saigon,” but when it comes to basketball here, choosing purple or red does make a difference.