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BIANNA GOLODRYGA: Well, now, as sports venues across the world begin to tentatively open up, we dig into the special relationship between athletes and fans. In the
United States basketball, it’s something that’s taking a real dark turn this week. Five NBA arena’s banning some fans because of poor behavior.
We’re talking about people running onto the court throwing objects, even spitting on players. Well, thankfully, we have a bit of an antidote now
with Nav Bhatia.
Last month, he became the first NBA super fan inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame. Mr. Bhatia has not missed a Toronto Rappers game since 1995.
In fact, he’s become such a part of the team that he got to championship ring when they won in 2019. Here is talking to Hari Sreenivasan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARI SREENIVASAN: Thanks, Biaana. Nav Bhatia, thanks for joining us.
How did a guy that’s not 6 feet, even with the turban, that’s not athletic, never played a single minute of pro basketball get both a championship ring
and in the Hall of Fame?
NAV BHATIA, TORONTO RAPTORS SUPERFAN: I tell you. This is something which is amazing. It’s a miracle. And it is something that, you know, no fan can
dream of. As a fan, you can dream of your team winning the championship and you can join the parade and celebrate. But here, God gave me the
opportunity not just to be sitting on the courtside when we beat Golden State in Oakland. But two days later, will be the grand march of the
biggest sports parade ever in the history of any sports. 9 million people were watching, 2.5 on the streets and 7 million people on the internet and
on the TV.
And then, right after that, on October 22, 2019, getting for the first time in the history of any sports, getting championship ring which the players
BHATIA: Same thing what (INAUDIBLE) and Larry got. And then to be to beat all that of, then getting a Hall of Fame from the Hall of Fame in the NBA.
This is amazing business. This is not what you dream of.
And especially, when I was in front of the gallery and — the Superfan Gallery and watching all those things, especially my turban, I tell you, I
had to pace myself and it was so amazing.
SREENIVASAN: When you shared with your family that you are going to be in the Hall of Fame, what was the response?
BHATIA: They were in awe. They were speechless. I mean, we are all in all right. Now, we are just — you know, it’s unbelievable. Bring the journey
which God has me put through with the championship, with championship ring and now, Hall of Fame. But I had to tell my wife, I had to break the news
that I’m not wearing the wedding ring anymore now because this Hall of Fame ring is going to take the priority over that.
SREENIVASAN: I don’t think you want to say that your wide.
BHATIA: I did. I did already. The harm has been done.
SREENIVASAN: Can you show us the ring that you have?
BHATIA: This is the championship ring.
SREENIVASAN: That looks pretty good. That’s the championship ring and then you have —
BHATIA: That’s the championship ring and this is the ring which has replaced my wife’s wedding band, Hall of Fame ring.
BHATIA: With my name on it and everything.
SREENIVASAN: Let’s take a couple of steps backs. Well, you don’t look like the traditional superfan with your background coming to Canada in 1984.
First of all, what drove you to leave India?
BHATIA: Well, because we Sikhs and was a — you know, they — everybody knows, golden temple, the holiest of our place was attacked and found
themselves — people, pilgrimages were killed there. But, you know, after that, it was a lot of tension going on everywhere, a year — two or three
years before that and even a little bit after that.
And, you know, there were some people who — there was a genocide, basically, I’m going to say, in a lot of part of the — a lot of India and
in Delhi especially, where my family is from, they were just picking on the sits, putting the burning tires on them, you know, raping the girls and all
that. It was that it was a bad, bad scenario. And, you know, I hope it never happens anywhere in the world to any particular community.
And you know, that was the saddest period in our life, because in ’47 we left Pakistan. And then in ’84, all this happens and then, we had to
migrate to Canada. Out of 20 (ph), my parents came, my family, all my family was here in Canada.
SREENIVASAN: So, you come out of there and you were trained or qualify. What were you working as in India and then what did you start working as in
BHATIA: Well, I’m a mechanical engineer by education. But in India, my parents had — family had an optical business, which I was able to expand
and I was a part of — I was going to be a part of it and expand it.
BHATIA: But all came to stand still once this enlightenment (ph) was bad and the Sikh rights and genocide happened. And at that time, as a family,
we decided to get out of there, me and my wife were the first one to come. And when I first came here, I was very happy. I was rented a basement for
$340 and I was the safest guy. I felt to be very safe. But finding a job was another lot of speed bumps. Nobody wanted to hire a guy with a turban
and beard. So, I did odd jobs. I did janitorial work. I did landscaping job.
But I tell you one thing, I was the best janitor and I was the best landscaper. Because whatever I do, I do it with passion. And we the Sikhs
believe in the dignity of labor that everything is good as long as you’re working hard.
SREENIVASAN: So, you come here, trained as an engineer, but you take jobs as janitors and as a landscaper. And then, how did you get into car sales?
BHATIA: Well, let me tell you, I applied a couple of 100 places in 1984. And one day, I got a call from — for an interview at a car dealership
called Rexdale Hyundai. And you know what? I went there. I was hired. And the day I started, I had some other speedbumps. You know there were, 9, 10
white guys standing around and as soon as I entered the showroom, they started making fun of me, they start calling me towel head, they start
calling me diaper head. All those names. And they started calling me Parky (ph).
And I said, you know, why are they calling the Parky (ph)? I could understand all the others, but why are they calling me Parky (ph) because
I’m not from Pakistan? Later I found it was not a good name.
BHATIA: But you know what? Of that day, I got the motivation that now you have to be better than good if you want to survive. And with God’s grace
and hard work I sold under the 127 cars in three months, which was the record at the time and it’s still be the record today.
SREENIVASAN: Soo, you sold a bunch of cars. Did that automatically lead to purchasing a car dealership or how did you get into this line of work?
BHATIA: No. Then I became a manager then when Hyundai moved to me to another dealership which was failing and failing. And as I went there, I
thought everybody knows, that was in ’87, that I was the top manager in the country. I had a little chip on the shoulder, you know, it’s all human.
BHATIA: But then as soon as I went there, once again, there was another speedbump. There were 9 out of 10 white sales people, decided to quit and
not to work for a general manager who had a turban and beard and I had to start it all over again with a new team, and we became number one in the
country. And now, with God’s grace that I have five dealership, three Hyundai and two Genesis with 270 people working and it’s amazing.
SREENIVASAN: So, you built up a network of car dealerships. It’s one of the largest in Canada. What made you want to be a basketball fan?
BHATIA: Well, you know, like any other immigrant, first 10 years when you come to a new country, you spend energy. I used to work 100 hours to make
sure that I have a roof on the of my family and we had bread and butter going. So, you know what I did? I was (INAUDIBLE) table in ’95 and I used
to watch basketball on television with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, Dr. J and it was an exciting game.
But you know what? As soon as they came in ’95, I decided to buy two tickets for the franchise. And I said, I’m going to give it a try and if I
don’t like it, I won’t renew them. But lo and behold, the very first day — remember the 3rd in 1995, I went and I fell in love. It is the fastest game
on this planet. It’s the most entertaining game on this planet. And for two and a half hours, the way NBA has designed, you just forget about
everything. You are in a different zone. And 25 years later, I have never been late for a game. I have never missed a game. And I would never leave a
SREENIVASAN: Short of the COVID season, that’s an impressive streak. So, what have you given up to show up at a Toronto Raptors game? I mean, what
kinds of things have you missed in your life? Because the basketball schedule is not easy to keep up with.
BHATIA: It’s not easy. And you know, with the road games, and with the playoff games, it gets harder. Let me tell you one thing. I’m very loved
outside of my home. In my home, I’m not a superfan. I have missed my wife’s wedding anniversaries. I have missed her birthdays. I had missed some other
events. And every relative knows that I’m not going to show up if there is a Raptors’ game on that day.
And you know, my priority all around the Raptors’ schedule and that’s what I have done in 25 years. Even if I have a temperature, (INAUDIBLE) has
helped me out to be there. And I tell you, I have loved it, enjoyed it for the last 25 years.
SREENIVASAN: You know, I got to ask, well, what is it about the Raptors that makes you want to stay a fan? I mean, look, players have come and
gone. The administration, so to speak, of the team has changed. And frankly, the first few years, they stunk.
BHATIA: Yes, you can say that. I have seen a lot of — a lot of times, I was sitting there when they were only 4,000 people in the arena. I was
there when they were losing by 30 points in the last quarter. So, you know — but we — I’m a Sikh and Sikhs are very loyal people. Once we hold
somebody, we don’t let it to go.
So, I’m — you know, I have only one team, which is the basketball I like. I only have one car. I was offered other dealerships with other franchise,
but I only have Hyundai. And then I have only one wife. I have one daughter. And I have only dealt with one bank for the last — over 35
years, Bank of Nova Scotia. So, you know, I’m a one thing guy.
SREENIVASAN: So, tell me a little bit about when you are on the court, what is it that you are doing for somebody who’s never watched a Raptors’
game, if I turned on the TV and I know the camera pans to you often during these games, what do I see you doing? What do I hear you doing?
BHATIA: You are going to be seeing me cheering as loud as I can. And I want to tell something here. I love all the players, basketball players.
For 48 minutes, when Raptors’ uplink (ph) somebody, we might be competing, we might be in competition, but before 48-minute and after the 48 minutes,
we are all brothers. And I break bread with them even after the game and before the game.
So, everybody knows and believe, all the players, referees and the approaching coaches know that this guy love. So, everybody knows them. They
love it and respect it, but sometimes they might not when I’m throwing the towel when a guy is going the free-throw. So, they don’t like it. People
like Shaq, people like the C.B., Chris Webber and Kevin Garnet and (INAUDIBLE), you know. You ask them, they will tell you that I’m very
annoying when I’m there. But all in good way and respective way.
SREENIVASAN: You know, a couple of years ago, there was an exchange on Twitter and people from opposing teams want to pick on people that they
know are superfans, right. So, this guy reached out on Twitter and said the mean things about you. I want you to tell us briefly what that is about.
BHATIA: Well, he was not a super fan. He was the guy who lives three hours away from Milwaukee Arena and has never seen a Sikh. And so, he wrote on
the tweet that this guy is fat and is wearing an underwear on his head. Now, I got to give the credit. He was 50 percent right. I am fat by all
standard, but I was not wearing an underwear.
And everybody in the social media started killing it. So, I tweeted out, guys, let’s not kill him because then there is no difference between him
and us. So, leave him alone because I get so much love in Milwaukee. One fan shouldn’t make a difference. And we were in the middle of the playoff.
I didn’t want any side drama.
And a few days later after that, credit to him, he called me for forgiveness and I told him, I’ll only forgive when I come to Milwaukee and
I’m able to take his family for a game and I have a bite to eat with him. And that’s what I did. November 3rd in 2019, I took him and his very good
looking 10-year-old son to the game. And, you know, during the dinner, everybody Milwaukee fan wearing the (INAUDIBLE) Jersey game hugged me and
all of them took picture. And this kid became a friend. And I told him when we were leaving and hugging each other and they were crying, they were
So, you know, here we change perception. Now, he’s a friend of mine. And I tell you, this is an amazing hall. Basketball gives us the opportunity to
bring the world together.
SREENIVASAN: You’ve been buying tickets, a lot of tickets every year for the Sikh new year, why?
BHATIA: Well, because I wanted to bring everybody together. I want the people — you know about 21 years over, right after I was given the title
of superfan, I was — by Isiah Thomas, the Hall of Famer himself. He was our president and general manager. He gave me jersey in the middle of — in
front of all the parents. I became the face of the Raptors and I had some – – you know, tap on the shoulder again. I heard something about it.
And then one day, when I went to fix my phone, there was a white guy sitting there talking to his wife. And he said, honey, I got to go, my cab
is here. Because a lot of Sikhs drive cab in Toronto, and I’m proud of them, because we, the Sikhs, believe in dignity of labor.
But I didn’t get upset with him. So, right after that, I went to the Raptors and bought 3,000 and more in order to bring everybody, all the
young kids from 10 to 15 years old together from the Gurdwaras, from the Hindu temple, mosque, churches, single mother kids, everybody together
because these kids, I don’t want them to go through what I went through, all the speedbumps.
So, this is working for last 20 years. I’ve been doing the (INAUDIBLE) game. And now, if you go up to the Raptors Arena, Scotiabank Arena, you see
thousands of immigrants and hundreds of people with a turban. It’s a different arena. And that’s what I want to do. The NBA and the Raptors had
given me the opportunity to bring the world together.
Now, it’s not just an entertainment for me, it’s my mission to use all this which I have to bring the world together.
SREENIVASAN: You know, it’s interesting that you call them speedbumps. I mean, people would call this racism and discrimination. How do you not let
systemic oppression keep your optimism at bay?
BHATIA: You know, I mean, I’m of Sikh faith. And, you know, one thing, our morning prayer, if anybody knows, it’s not (INAUDIBLE), that means
happiness and wellness for everybody irrespective of religion, color, faith or gender. And that gives me — keeps get me going. And I always believed
when somebody goes low, you go high. And that’s what I’ve been doing and practicing for the last 40, 50 years, you know, and it has well delved (ph)
in my case.
Because, basically, I believe human being are full of love, it’s just that hatred goes in them and they go to take the hatred out, educated them and
bring the love in. If they can bring the hatred, we can definitely bring the love and make this world a better place.
SREENIVASAN: You know, I want to circle back to this fact that throughout your life in Canada, the turban has been a symbol for you of your faith,
for ignorant people of your difference. And here is that turban now in the basketball Hall of Fame. I mean, what was that like seeing that?
BHATIA: You know, when I was in front, when they did the ribbon cutting and I saw the gallery for the first time, I saw my jersey and I saw my
chair where I sit in the Raptors, sit number A12 courtside and then I saw my replica of my championship ring and then I saw this turban, white turban
with my red band exactly like this, which I wore during the Golden State championship run. And I teared up. That here it is for the next generation
after generation to see this.
And I want to give kudos to not just Raptors, but also to the NBA and Hall of Fame all of been, especially Commissioner Silver and Deputy Commissioner
Mark Tatum, who were amazing people. And I’m proud of NBA. I’m proud to be a part of this league because it’s always, it’s always on the right side of
the goals and leader in taking lead in all the social (ph) causes.
SREENIVASAN: Nav Bhatia, thanks so much for joining us.
BHATIA: Thank you very much, sir. Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to talk to you. And hopefully, when people see it, they will
become more inclusive and will bring — will make the world a better world.
About This Episode EXPAND
Nav Bhatia became the first NBA superfan inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, having not missed a Toronto Raptors game since 1995.LEARN MORE