Nav Bhatia's name was immortalized over the weekend when he joined the ranks of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Wilt Chamberlain in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. While some make it to the HOF for their jump shot or coaching skills, Bhatia is the first to be enshrined for being a fan.
"In the greatest building basketball has, the name Superfan Nav Bhatia will be immortalized," Bhatia said in a tweet. "There is now a turban and the first fan honoured within Naismith Basketball Hall Of Fame. I am overcome with emotions today."
Thank you to the @Hoophall @NBA. @Raptors. Thank you Jimmy Goldstein for the honour.Thank you to my manager Rinku f… https://t.co/4PHhnh0Cpp— Nav Bhatia Superfan (@Nav Bhatia Superfan) 1621212124.0
Bhatia bought a pair of tickets to the Toronto Raptors' first game during their inaugural season in 1995 on a whim and has attended every home game since. He's known for sitting courtside, just below one of the nets.
Rival Milwaukee Bucks power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo once called Bhatia the Raptors "most annoying fan."
But to Raptors fans, he's quite the opposite. In fact, he was awarded a championship ring after the team won the NBA Finals in 2019.
I have absolutely no issues in making this a regular occurrence lol. Honoured and humbled to receive this ring fro… https://t.co/FEncyyPIt6— Nav Bhatia Superfan (@Nav Bhatia Superfan) 1621252010.0
But Bhatia's fandom is about a lot more than just aggressively cheering for his team. According to his website, his goal is to "unite people of all ages and backgrounds through the game of basketball so they don't have to face the discrimination [he's] faced as a visible minority."
He came to Canada from India in 1984 to escape religious persecution. When he arrived, he had a hard time getting in a job with his mechanical engineering background because of the way he looked.
Bhatia was able to land a job as a car salesman where he excelled, eventually making his way through the ranks. Now, he now owns two of the most successful Hyundai dealerships in Canada.
In 2018, he received a Royal Bank of Canada Top 25 Canadian Immigrants Award, an honor given to those who contribute to the Canadian economy, to Canadian society, and to Canada overall.
His experiences as an immigrant led him to create the Nav Bhatia Superfan Foundation dedicated to raising money to build basketball courts and camps for kids in Canada and across the globe.
The superfan's belief in charity mirrors those of his Sikh faith, which put an emphasis on charitable giving. "A wise man said — the true measure of a man is not his intelligence or how much he amasses," Bhatia writes on his site. "No, the true measure of a man is how quickly can he respond to the needs of others and how much of himself he can give."
As a World Vision ambassador, Bhatia helped raise $200,000 to build restrooms for female students in northern India.
Changing perceptions -- from Sikh to superfan | Nav Bhatia | TEDxTorontowww.youtube.com
Bhatia's fandom is also about changing perceptions of Sikhs in Canada and abroad. "As I stand before you today, what do you see?" he asked the audience at his 2014 Ted Talk. "Someone who makes you uncomfortable on your flight? Your convenience store worker? Your gas station attendant? You see my turban and my beard."
After a man mistook him for a cab driver, he realized that he needed to do something to change the narrow perceptions of Sikhs. So he decided to do so through his love of basketball.
"I went to every game. I cheered the most. Everybody noticed this turban guy cheering on the team the loudest. Even the opposing team noticed that," he added. "All of the sudden, this turban guy became the face of the Toronto Raptors."
Bhatia's story is a wonderful example of the power that sports fandom has to bring people together across ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic divides.
"This is what basketball does—it gives us the opportunity to bring the world together," he said.
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