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A Sikh becomes first ever fan to be inducted in NBA hall of fame

  • Published at 11:09 pm May 26th, 2021
NBA
Toronto Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia

The 69-year old Sikh, Nav Bhatia, is known as the 'superfan' of the Toronto Raptors and has rarely missed a game since the team started in 1995

Indian origin Nav Bhatia became a part of history as he became the first basketball fan to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. 

The 69-year old Sikh is known as the "superfan" of the Toronto Raptors and has rarely missed a game since the team started in 1995.

On May 17, Bhatia along with Chris Webber, Paul Pierce, and Jay Wright were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Bhatia's exhibit features a turban and a "Superfan" jersey. 

"Today was a dream," Bhatia tweeted of the experience.

"In the greatest building basketball has, the name Superfan Nav Bhatia will be immortalized. There is now a turban and the first fan honored within [the] Naismith Basketball Hall Of Fame. I am overcome with emotions."

He immigrated to Canada from India in 1984 to escape religious persecution.

When he arrived, he had a hard time getting a job with his mechanical engineering background because of the way he looked.

However, Bhatia was able to land a job as a car salesman where he excelled, eventually making his way through the ranks.

Now, he owns two of the most successful Hyundai dealerships in Canada.

But his real passion was basketball — and the Raptors in particular.

When the team came to Toronto as part of an NBA expansion program, Bhatia bought season tickets.

It started when a white man in the late 1990s mistook Bhatia for a taxi driver.

“I was wearing a suit and approached him, when he looked back and told his wife ‘Honey, I need to go. My cab’s here.’ Because Sikhs are a visible minority and were only seen as cabbies, I knew after overcoming the initial shock that I needed to change perceptions,” he said.

From there, began his ritual trips to every ball game at the SkyDome.

Despite the Toronto team having something of a rocky record through the 1990s and early 2000s, Bhatia hardly ever missed a game, and, famously, has never left a game early.

He was such a vocal fan and such a constant presence that Raptors coach Isaiah Thomas held a special ceremony to award him the title of "Superfan" in 1998.

"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,” said Bhatia.

When the Raptors won the 2019 NBA Championships, the team gifted him a championship ring emblazoned with the word "Superfan."

Bhatia told a PRI interviewer in 2019 that when he first started attending games, fans weren't used to seeing "brown people like me."

In order to change that, Bhatia began purchasing around 3,000 tickets a year to send people to games, many of them Sikh.

In 2018, he launched a foundation to support his ticket purchases.

The point of giving away tickets, he told PRI, "was to tell them that we might look different, we are different, maybe, but deep inside, 99.99%, we have the same passion, which is [we] love basketball and [we] cheer for the same team, which is the Raptors."

In the world of rising ethnic, religious hatred and ever growing socioeconomic division, Bhatia’s story is like a fresh air depicting the power of sports eliminating all the discriminations. 

"This is what basketball does—it gives us the opportunity to bring the world together," said a proud Bhatia.

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