Last week, some of the biggest names in the National Basketball Association (NBA) congratulated Raptors Nav Bhatia on becoming the first “Superfan” to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. This included the families of those he heckled, as well as owner Mark Cuban who, when his Dallas Mavericks traveled to Toronto, often requested that Nav’s iconic towel be taken away. “They are the biggest names in sport. But my job as a fan was to play with their free throws, ”says the 69-year-old who has attended all Raptors games in Toronto, and has been honored by the NBA for his unwavering loyalty to his team.
“We Indians are the first to enter the Hall of Fame as fans, and we still haven’t. This is not what happens to fans in their wildest dreams. Children dream of winning championships as players and for a fan the honor is huge, which I humbly accept, ”says the man, who left Delhi during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and passed his time in Toronto making sure children from minority communities don’t. feel left out of the city’s biggest basketball concert. “I bought thousands of tickets so that children – Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Chinese, Jamaicans, Brazilians, Italians – could be part of this team,” said the businessman.
Today was a dream.
In the largest basketball building, Superfan Nav Bhatia’s name will be immortalized, there is now a turban and the first fan honored within the Naismith Basketball Hall Of Fame. I am overwhelmed with emotions today.
📸 @ADBPhotoInc pic.twitter.com/TFe7cpwDAK
– Nav Bhatia Superfan (@superfan_nav) May 17, 2021
It started when a white man in the late 1990s mistook Bhatia for a taxi driver. “I was wearing a suit and walked over to him, when he looked back and said to his wife, ‘Honey, I have to go. My taxi is here. Because Sikhs are a visible minority and were only seen as taxi drivers, I knew after getting over the initial shock that I needed to change perceptions, ”he says. From there began his ritual journeys to every ball game at SkyDome.
When the Toronto Raptors won the championship in 2019, Bhatia led an 80,000-strong parade as Grand Marshal.
Bhatia says he also weathered the franchise’s dark days, even as regulars got used to seeing his white turban spin around the arena, attracting serious giants. “Those first few days, the team lost 30 points in the last quarter, won only 16-17 out of 82 games and there were only 4,000 people left in the 40th minute. But you know the Sikhs – we are loyal people. I never left, ”he recalls. Team president Isaiah Thomas would pull him ahead and anoint Superfan.
Acclimatization in Canada had taken a few years, however, as Bhatia was doing odd jobs to start life again. A mechanical engineer back in Delhi who played cricket like everyone else, he mowed lawns and cleaned the toilets. “We Sikhs believe in the dignity of work. No one could find fault with my cleaning. My washrooms would be the cleanest in town and my landscaping would be perfect if I worked a lawn, ”he recalls.
He would walk into a car dealership to start his sales job and make fun of “diaper head” and “towel head”, but kept silent and went about his job. “There were speedbumps – I don’t call that discrimination. People are inherently good, but the perception had to change, and when they went down I went high. I didn’t argue, I just begged Babaji to give me the strength to do my job well. I sold 127 cars in three months and the same people started to treat me differently. If you treat people the way you would like to be treated, attitudes change, ”he says. Bhatia would buy the same dealership – and more – and move up the ranks.
Racist taunts would test his resolve to keep the turban on. “It was a promise I made to my mother when I was 16. That was 53 years ago. She was a strict lady and she summoned me one day and told me that I should never give up the turban or drink alcohol. I still remember shivering when I made that promise. So after the ribbon cutting at the Hall of Fame ceremony, I was overwhelmed with tears to see my turban being presented there. The turban is the ultimate for a Sikh and we should be proud of our identity, ”he adds.
As a child, I promised my mother never to take off my turban. Today it’s in the Hall of Fame. Accept what makes you different. It is your superpower. It is the crown that I wear every day. Thanks Mom. pic.twitter.com/s6cCjxbdhR
– Nav Bhatia Superfan (@superfan_nav) May 19, 2021
Find a new love
Bhatia is often asked why he didn’t just follow cricket. “But I was in North America. And I fell in love with this fast sport. For three hours you are in a different area. You forget your sorrows and fears, ”he says, adding that after his father totem died in 1997, the game held him together. “I remember getting my car out of the parking lot with a lot of energy after watching Michael Jordan play.”
He would watch Vince Carter and Chris Bosh grow into superstars, and Carter’s mother would be the first to congratulate him on the Hall of Fame honor, which saw him choosing the precious jewel-encrusted ring. Long before the 2019 triumph, Bhatia was watching Paul Pierce block a ringtone in Game 7 against the Brooklyn Nets, and he was going to cure his disappointment by reminding Pierce every year, “I’d say ‘Damn it, if only you didn’t. ‘hadn’t blocked the last shot ”.”
But it was in her efforts to bring children from different communities to play that Bhatia would find her life purpose. “Diversity is a strength. I have no hatred for those who did not treat me with respect at the time. There was a time when I used basketball for entertainment. Now I want to use it to bring various groups together, ”he says.
India is not forgotten
Named after “A New Hope for a Young Nation” in 1952 (his older brother born in 1947 was named Navraj), Navdeep Bhatia believed that swearing loyalty to an NBA team was his best way to fit into his career. adopted country. While helping fund the construction of toilets for girls’ schools in Faridkot and Alwar, he was proud of the oxygen langars that Sikhs started during Delhi’s deadly tragedy with the virus.
While he has supported the rise of Canadian player Sim Bhullar, he is waiting for the day when an Indian will play in the NBA. “They need to work hard, to show their belonging and to make my dream come true. But you can’t go home and eat parotha and samosas! he warns.
Although ice hockey remains the ultimate sport in Canada, Bhatia is reluctant to share her affections with any other sport. “I’ve missed a lot of birthdays and anniversaries to keep up with the Raptors so my wife won’t be happy and I’m not much of a Superfan at home. My married life hangs by a thin thread. And if I choose another sport, I’m going to get a divorce, ”said the one-match loyalist, without a hint of laughter, the only moment of the conversation.