Nav Bhatia: The Superfan up North


Martin Miller '26

Although there is currently no in person attendance allowed in Scotiabank Arena, home of the Toronto Raptors, that is not to say that the team doesn’t have loyal fans. The Raptors fanbase has often been remarked as one of the best in basketball. Among them is one that stands out. 

His name is Nav Bhatia, and he is universally known as the most iconic fan of the franchise (besides Drake, that is). Unlike Drake though, he stays true to the team through thick and thin. He isn’t just a fan however, he is a staple of the franchise and is just as connected with the team as the players themselves. His commitment to the team is practically a full-time job. With hours and hours of work put into it, he even is quoted as saying, “I breathe, drink, everything around the Raptors basketball. My whole life is around the Raptors season.” When anyone thinks about notable basketball fans in Canada, this man is one of the first to come to mind. 

 Before you read about his career of dedication to the Raptors, I think his life story prior to it deserves a mention. Bhatia was originally born in 1951, in New Delhi, India. In 1984, when he was in his thirties, violence was going on in his town. He was living in the midst of the anti-Sikh riots, a movement devoted to brutally massacring the Sikh population of India, and especially focused on Delhi (Sikhs are recognized by the turbans they wear on their heads. Bhatia, being a Sikh from Delhi himself, fled the country in search of a better life. He eventually found refuge and settled in Toronto, aspiring to be a mechanical engineer. He sadly struggled in his search, largely because of where he came from. Bhatia is quoted as saying, “I’m a mechanical engineer by education, but nobody wanted to hire an engineer with a turban and a beard.” After being turned away, he was forced to work at non-preferable jobs, such as cleaning and landscaping, just to put food on the table. It looked like he was approaching rock bottom, but he didn’t give up. Bhatia got a job as a car salesman. Bhatia decided to make the best out of his less than ideal situation and became one of the most successful car salesmen in the history of Canada. He sold 127 cars in 3 months, a record at the time, and continually was one of the most beloved salesmen throughout the city. Two years later, Bhatia got the keys to the dealership and started running it himself, along with another one he acquired at around the same time. While owning the dealership, the city was getting their own NBA franchise: the Raptors. The team’s first season was in 1995, where Nav Bhatia was passionately sitting in the stands. 

For the next 26 years, Nav did not miss a single Raptors home game. That is the entire history of the organization: from 1995-2020, Bhatia did not miss a single home game, a streak that is likely never to be broken. To put things in perspective, at the time of his first game, Bill Clinton was still in his first term in office, Toy Story was the highest grossing movie, and DVDs hadn’t even been invented. He went to every game then, and he goes to every game now. He would have gone in the 2020-21 season too, but the ‘home’ games were being played in Tampa because of international travel concerns. Despite the team only having a positive record in the 11 of 25 full seasons in Toronto, the superfan still went to every game. He has witnessed many ups and downs with the team, but he has stayed true. He has watched All-Stars such as Vince Carter, Chris Bosh, Kyle Lowry, Demar Derozan, and the player who would eventually lead them to a championship Kawhi Leonard play in Raptors colors. His seats are always courtside and right under the basket, so he always has the best view of anyone in the stadium. He even has his own jersey, with the iconic number 95 imprinted on the back.

Through his illustrious career, Bhatia has a long list of accomplishments. He has achieved things that one would think to be impossible. In 2019, when the Raptors won it all, he was the first fan to ever receive a championship ring. Until then a ring was an item reserved for players, coaches, and team executives. He was also recently inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, becoming the first fan to ever do so. He was recognized by Kobe Bryant in his last game in Canada, where Kobe praised him by saying, “Superfan, I want to thank you for what you have done, because you have created a culture of bringing everybody together through this game of basketball.” That is some high praise from one of the best to ever play. In 2018, Bhatia was recognized in the Top 25 Canadian Immigrant award.  He also gets to hang out with Drake. 

Although the world changed the way they saw Bhatia through basketball, Nav is changing the way people see basketball through him. Outside of his career as a fanatic, Bhatia has created the Superfan Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to building basketball courts and managing basketball camps for kids across Canada and internationally. In his words, he wants to “unite all of us from different backgrounds and faiths through the game of basketball.” Bhatia is determined to grow his organization by selling all forms of merchandise such as basketballs with his face on it, a custom bobblehead of him, and other products with all proceeds going to his foundation. 

What is he doing now? Well, he unfortunately missed his first game in Toronto (that fans were allowed to) a few months back. In an unfortunate turn of events, he was forced to isolate after attending the Giants at Africa Gala with Raptors GM, Masai Ujiri, in which a COVID-19 outbreak occurred. Once his isolation was done, there was a temporary ban on all in-person attendance at games due to the recent spike in COVID-related illness in Ontario, which still stands today. However, the day fans are allowed to be back, it is all but a guarantee Bhatia will be right there with them.