The 2017 VBA season reached a climax on Tuesday night in an ill-tempered basketball battle between the Ho Chi Minh City Wings and Hanoi Buffaloes with both teams jostling for positioning for the final playoff spot. The capital’s team successfully shot down the Wings, 81-74, in front of a disgruntled Ho Xuan Huong Arena crowd to secure their grip of the fourth spot on the standings board.
Things got a little bit out of control after the final whistle when fans started throwing plastic bottles at lead referee, Mr. Tan Ching Siong, who made several sketchy and presumably, unfair calls against the home team. City Wings captain Ngo Tuan Trung also walked straight to Mr. Tan after the match and had to be restrained by security staff and teammates.
“I didn’t have any violent reactions towards him," says Trung. “I just came and asked why he called that technical foul on me earlier.”
Let’s rewind to that questionable technical foul.
With 1:59 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Buffaloes were only behind by three points and in possession of the ball. Hanoi guard Nguyen Tien Duong suddenly made a cut towards the basket, placing his elbow on Trung’s head to gain better positioning. As one of the most temperamental players in the league, Trung could not keep his cool and quickly pushed Duong away in retaliation. Unfortunately for the Wings, the move did not elude the eyes of the Malaysian referee and an unsportsmanlike foul was only called on Trung.
Number 11 attempted to explain the entire situation to the referee and demonstrated it by putting his own elbow across his neck. However, there seemed to be a huge misunderstanding of his gesture made by the referee, leading to another technical foul.
“I was really calm at that moment. I was just trying to explain the situation to him but still got a technical foul,” Trung would say about the referee’s decision. “Even after the match, I came to ask him about the foul, but he just told me to shut up and leave him alone. I would have respected him, but only if it is mutual.”
With less than one minute remaining, Bilal Richardson's game ended early after he also received a technical foul for complaining about an earlier call, sealing the fifth loss for the home team.
We also had the chance to discuss the situation with Wings head coach Ricky Magallanes.
“It’s out of our control with regards to the referee. My hands as a coach are tied up and if we complain, they will call technical [fouls] on us, fine us, and even suspend us. For the officiating people, they are not being suspended. They are even being paid whether they call a good call or call a bad call,” elaborated Coach Ricky when asked whether or not the officials had made unfair calls against the home team.
Regarding the report that Coach Ricky walked to the referee with a chair in his hand after the match, he just laughed and explained: “I took a chair and went to the other side because a friend of mine from the Philippines flew to watch the game. I guess it’s a misunderstanding because the timing was that fans were throwing bottled water at the referees.”
Former Wings captain, Nguyen Huynh Hai, who has worked with Coach Ricky before when he was still the head coach of the HCMC team, also shared his thoughts on the situation. “Ricky is a professional coach, I would never think of him hitting [the referee] with a chair in my whole career.”
According to an unofficial source, the Wings may suffer more than a loss after the previous game with Coach Ricky reportedly being suspended for two matches, Tuan Trung for five, and Bilal Richardson being suspended only one match, but will be fined 60% of his salary. The Wings will have 48 hours to appeal the decision.
If the source is true, we may tragicomically witness the 2016 VBA Champions and runner-ups sitting at the bottom of the 2017 heap. What a difference a year makes.