Canadian businessman Nav Bhatia still remembers the day that changed his life. A year into being named the Superfan of the Toronto Raptors, Bhatia walked into a store seeking a fix on his cellphone. Someone immediately spoke up. But the man didn’t recognize Bhatia as the smiling face that regularly appears on the big screen at the local NBA games.
“Honey, my cab is here,” Bhatia remembers the white man saying.
Bhatia, an Indian Sikh, recently became the first fan inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. He doesn’t drive a cab. Actually, at the time of the exchange, Bhatia had been so successful selling cars in the city for more than a decade that he’d held Raptors season tickets for several seasons. But the man profiled Bhatia by his looks, the Superfan said. The white man assumed that Bhatia, a bearded Indian Sikh wearing a turban, was likely to be his cab driver.
“On that day, I decided that I’ve got to change the perception of the mainstream about the Sikhs,” Bhatia told Yahoo Finance Live. “And I went out and bought thousands of tickets from the Raptors to bring the young kids to the game together along with the Sikhs, Muslims, Hindu, Christians, everybody Black, white, and together so that kids grow up (knowing) they are all the same and cheering for the same cause: Winning of the game.”
A Raptor’s season ticket holder since the franchise’s inception in 1995, Bhatia became the first fan inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame during the Class of 2020 inductions on May 15. Bhatia has helped grow the Raptors fan base with diversity initiatives and become a face of the franchise at public events. Through the Nav Bhatia Superfan Foundation, Bhatia has donated NBA tickets (estimated at about $300,000 in tickets annually) and built courts for underserved communities to help ensure that both the stadium seats, and someday the players themselves, are increasingly filled with diverse faces.
His efforts haven’t been unnoticed. He’s a courtside regular at Raptors games and has posed for pictures with Canadian rapper Drake. In 2019, the Raptors sent Bhatia a championship ring and included him in the championship parade. But still the induction ceremony was something he said a fan never expects to happen.
“I was pinching myself for the three hours,” Bhatia said of the ceremony.
The Hall of Fame honored Bhatia with a trophy case filled with Raptors memorabilia including a Superfan jersey, a 2019 NBA Championship ring and Bhatia’s seat from Scotiabank Arena. Even a pair of Bhatia’s custom Superfan shoes sat on display. In many ways, it looked similar to the players’ and coaches’ lockers inside the Hall of Fame. But one thing stood out. The Hall of Fame included one of Bhatia’s turbans in the display. Nearly two weeks after the induction, Bhatia was still in shock about the gesture.
“That was the most emotional time to see a Sikh turban, my turban, right there for the rest of time to come in the future,” Bhatia said.
After moving to Canada amid the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in India, Bhatia struggled to find an engineering job and instead took a job selling used cars. After selling more than 100 cars in his first four months, Bhatia established himself as a top salesperson and was promoted to general manager. Now the owner of several dealerships, Bhatia is worth about $50 millionand is one of Hyundai’s leading car sellers in Canada,
He wants the younger generation to take the same approach he has with business and apply it to life, hoping that they too can foster an inclusive environment.
“I’ve been very blessed and successful in the business,” Bhatia said. “There is no rocket science for it. Just one thing: Treat people like you want to be treated yourself. And if somebody is down, make sure, even if you don’t know the person, you make sure you pick them up. That’s what you do. And if we start doing that, everybody will make this world a very beautiful place.”
Josh Schafer is a producer for Yahoo Finance.