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Culture Watch: Do not come for Nav the Superfan

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Nav Bhatia is everything that is right with the Raptors, and should be treated as such.

Boston sporting events seem to have an uncanny ability to bring out the absolute worst in people. It would be wonderful if these fans kept their deplorable behaviour within their own city limits, but from the Major League Baseball to NHL hockey, that is obviously too much to ask. It was just too much to hope that in the over 50 years since Bill Russell experienced racist taunts from fans of the very team he played for, fans of the Celtics would get it together.

As recent evidence suggests however, they have not.

As you would expect, Toronto fans did not care for any attack on Raptors’ superfan Nav Bhatia. Just go ahead and read the replies on that tweet as it was ratio-ed into oblivion.

If you follow the Toronto Raptors and have half a brain, you know Nav Bhatia. You may not know his name, but you know that at every single home game, there is a man sitting along the baseline in custom jerseys, cheering harder than the other 19,000 people in attendance.

Yes, he wears a turban, actually, a dastaar. For anyone who isn’t a racist, this is about as offensive as someone wearing pants, and much less offensive than someone wearing Crocs. The dastaar signifies honour, respect, equality, and courage, just to name a few. These are all qualities that every single person should aspire to possess, and Nav does, and he does it well.

Nav immigrated to Canada in 1984, before a good chunk of Raptors HQ readers were born. In India, he was a mechanical engineer. In Canada, he could not find work, and was regularly berated with racial slurs. It didn’t take long, however, for Mr. Bhatia to become a successful car salesman. As of today, he owns two Hyundai dealerships in the Greater Toronto Area. Perhaps this is why he can identify so much with Fred VanVleet’s “Bet On Yourself” mantra.

The millions of dollars Nav has earned over the last three decades pales in comparison to the number of lives he has touched. To say he is charitable would be an insult to just how much he does for his community in Toronto and beyond. On the evening the racist statement that prompted this article occurred, he was celebrating an early Baisakhi, a Sikh festival celebrating the spring harvest and birth of the Sikh values and religion. This was not the first time Nav had treated members of Toronto’s South Asian community to a Baisakhi day of basketball — it was in fact the 20th. Each year the Superfan purchases three thousand tickets for Sikh children and youth during Baisakhi and Diwali. If we do some rough math, that’s millions of dollars spent on tickets for other people.

But the return on his investment, the joy of attending a Raptors game and cultural celebration, is much higher.

In the summer of 2016, Mr. Bhatia was offered the position of ambassador for World Vision’s Rise-Up Daughters of India. World Vision, a Christian organization, made no issues of Bhatia’s Sikh devotion, looking only at his heart instead of his religion. Whether World Vision knew it or not, this is a pillar of the Sikh religion, to reject any notion that one religion is greater than another. Nav’s involvement helped to raise $65,000 to build girls’ washrooms in schools in India, but he did not stop there. His goal, he says, is to raise $200,000, enough for 60 school bathrooms for girls in India. For those of us who take having a safe space to use the washroom for granted, this means that untold thousands of girls in India will be able to safely use the washroom while pursuing an education.

His efforts, of course, are not limited to his native country. Back home in Canada, the Nav Bhatia Foundation is the Superfan’s latest, and possibly most important project yet. Through the project, he plans to build basketball courts in cities that need them all throughout the country. During last year’s playoffs, Nav received a message from the family of a sick child who dreamed of watching the Raptors play. Nav made that dream come true, and then some, organizing a meet and greet for the boy and his family with both the Toronto Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Nav Bhatia is as much a member of the Raptors family as Dwane Casey, Kyle Lowry, or DeMar DeRozan. Actually, he might be as much a member of DeMar’s family as DeMar DeRozan. When DeMar re-signed with the Toronto Raptors in 2016, it was Bhatia who helped him find a home in his own neighbourhood of Mississauga. Nav’s baseline seats are right beside the seats reserved for DeMar’s family and friends, and he can often be seen playing with and holding one or both of DeMar’s daughters. The idea of the superstar calling the Superfan for babysitting or parenting advice probably isn’t far off. In 2013, Bhatia flew to Lithuania to attend Jonas Valanciunas’ wedding. In 2002, he travelled to Florida to attend the wedding of the man we know as Vince Carter.

When Nav Bhatia fled India, he did so because of anti-Sikh riots and violence. He found a home in Canada, and a family within the Raptors organization. He puts as much effort into loving the Raptors as he does into everything else in his life; his family, his businesses, his charity, and his community. Calling him “turban guy” is insulting to a remarkable man, and he is so much more than his religion. Nav Bhatia is a hero. It is probably next to impossible to find a person, no matter what religion, ethnicity, or gender, with a kinder heart or warmer soul than the Toronto Raptors Superfan.

It’s easy to spread hate from behind a keyboard (especially when you’re a Celtics fan because if we’re being honest, the only good thing to come out of Boston is Mindy Kaling). It’s easier when you’ve probably never been a victim of it. Nav Bhatia has, and he has risen above it time and time again. He is the very definition of a role model. He is the heart and soul of the Toronto Raptors, and when they win the championship, well. dang it. they better give that man a ring too.