The Georgia Straight

Film tells superfan Nav Bhatia’s inspiratio­nal story

- By Charlie Smith

On November 20, the Toronto Raptors’ secondmost famous fan—after Drake, of course—was feted with a movie screening at the Vancouver Playhouse. It was a world premiere, in fact, of Superfan: The Nav Bhatia Story, which will be broadcast on December 3 by the CBC.

Bhatia has attended every Raptors’ home game in its history. He also runs the Nav Bhatia Superfan Foundation, which builds basketball courts and camps for kids in Canada and other countries.

The film features interviews with comedian Russell Peters, former NBA superstars Vince Carter and Isiah Thomas, and Raptors head coach Nick Nurse.

“People are telling me it’s a very good movie,” Bhatia told the Straight by phone. “They’re coming out crying. So there must be something good and emotional in the movie.”

His life story is certainly enough to stir the heart. His parents moved away from what is now Pakistan during the horrors of Great Britain’s partition of the Indian subcontine­nt in 1947. Up to a million people were killed in communal violence in the period leading up to this event, according to Jacob Bercovitch and Richard Jackson’s Internatio­nal Conflict: A Chronologi­cal Encycloped­ia of Conflicts and Their Management 1945-1995.

Bhatia’s dad was from Lahore and his mom was from Sialkot. “I remember her saying she came in a train with people loaded on the roof,” Bhatia said. “She had one baby and was expecting another. And she saw the killing. You know, people coming and killing with the swords. It was horrible.”

After settling in Delhi, the family built up a thriving business. But the communal violence exploded in a fury again in November 1984 in genocidal attacks on Sikhs following the assassinat­ion of then-Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi.

“My father barely made it,” Bhatia said. “They were going to put a burning tire on him.”

His family’s business and home were burned. He described this as his family’s “second partition”. He was 33 years old at the time. “After that, we wanted to, as a family, get out of India,” he said. “Me and my wife were the first ones to come to Canada, this beautiful country.”

Life was tough after they settled in a basement suite in Malton, Ontario.

“I did cleaning, janitorial, landscapin­g, and then I got into the car business as a salesman,” he said.

But then he encountere­d another “speed bump” in life. Colleagues at work used racial insults, such as “Paki” and “towel head”, to describe him. He found it odd that he would be called a “Paki” when he hailed from India, not Pakistan.

“I decided I had to work harder than hard to be successful in this environmen­t,” Bhatia said. “With God’s grace and hard work, I became the top salesperso­n in the country by selling 127 cars in three months, which was a record and still is a record.”

Ultimately, he came to own five dealership­s. “I think for the first 20 years I worked almost 100 hours a week,” Bhatia said.

In 2019 when the Raptors won their first NBA championsh­ip, he was the grand marshal of the parade. This year, Bhatia became the first fan to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

At the age of 16, Bhatia promised to his mother that he would not cut his hair in order to pay respect to Sikh traditions. He also pledged not to drink alcohol or smoke. While it hasn’t always been an easy road through life, he’s kept those promises.

He’s proud of the example that he is setting for young Sikhs when they see him in his turban having so much fun cheering on the Raptors. He’s heard young people tell him that if he can do this, they can do that, too.

“I just want to bring the people together with the game of basketball,” Bhatia said.

 ?? ?? Nav Bhatia made history this year when he became the first fan inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Nav Bhatia made history this year when he became the first fan inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

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