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Indian man is the first fan to be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame

by Ashima

Meet Navdeep ‘Nav’ Bhatia, the Toronto Raptors’ biggest superfan!

By Ashima Sethi

We all have fathers, uncles, and cousin brothers who claim to be the world’s biggest Manchester United or Liverpool fans, but even the biggest and most hysterical fans in our community can’t shine a light against Navdeep ‘Nav’ Bhatia, now cemented as one of the NBA’s biggest fans.

Despite never playing a game of basketball in his whole life, ‘Superfan Nav’ as the world now calls him, was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last week, where his name sits alongside sporting legends like Kevin Garnett and the late, great Kobe Bryant.

The 69-year old businessman is the first fan in history to have his name as part of the coveted NBA Hall of Fame and has used his platform of influence to encourage others to get involved in philanthropy and activism, while also smash stereotypes that exist towards the Sikh diaspora. After the induction ceremony he tweeted:

I made a promise as a kid to my mom i would never remove my turban. Today it is in the Hall of Fame. Embrace what makes you different. It is your superpower. This is the crown I wear each day. Thank you mom.

But who exactly is Nav Bhatia, and what make him one of the greatest fans in the world? Here’s a bit more about him.

In 1982, Nav had just finished studying a degree in Mechanical Engineering from California State University in Los Angeles, United States. He returned to his hometown of New Delhi, India where he hoped to set up his own business. Unfortunately shortly after in 1984, the Anti-Sikh Riots took place, in which thousands of Sikhs lost their lives.

Troubled by the genocide, Nav decided to leave India for Canada in the hopes of building a new life for himself. Speaking with Al Jazeera, he said: “Like most Indians, the first thing was to work towards having a roof on my head.” But Nav goes on to explain that he faced many challenges in making that dream a reality, most of them taking the form of discrimination because of how he looked.

Despite the challenging time in his new country, Nav fell in love with the sport of basketball pretty much straight away. “I would watch guys like Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, [they were] really entertaining…coming from cricket-crazy India, I had never played this game. But it was the perfect vent after the gruelling hours at work,” he says.

After a decade in Canada, Nav finally found a basketball team that he wanted to stand behind – the Toronto Raptors. He recalls buying tickets for their first game, and the rest is history. As he puts it, “Sikhs are loyal people and once you take someone’s hand, you hold it forever.” Now a successful owner of two of the biggest car dealerships in the country, he still doesn’t miss any games, and has become a regular sight in the front row yelling and cheering, as well as after games with the players and the management team.

In 2019, the team won the championship against the Golden State Warriors and for his undying support, the team gifted him an NBA Championship Ring, usually reserved for just the players. During the victory parade, he was asked to lead the procession, to which he fondly recalls: “whites, blacks, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, all kinds of people expressing their love for the team. That’s what basketball is all about.”

He then launched the Nav Bhatia Superfan Foundation in 2018 with the goal to build courts and distribute the necessary gear to make basketball accessible to as many children as possible. He’s also known for taking thousands of children to Raptors games during important Indian festivals, giving them a chance to meet each other and address the issue of racial discrimination in the community.

He’s also launched the Daughters of India Campaign with World Vision, which addresses a lack of sanitation for girls in India. As of 2017, the campaign raised over USD 300,000 and constructed 135 bathrooms in over 35 schools in the Punjab region. Nav has said that this is just the beginning of the many projects he hopes to undertake.

Information for this article first appeared on Al Jazeera.

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