How Raptors Superfan Nav Bhatia used sports to acclimate to Canada

June 2, 2017

By Donnovan Bennett, Sports Net |

Nav Bhatia is a member of Canada’s wealthy elite. He’s a millionaire with two businesses in his name. He’s also the Toronto Raptors’ most visible fan — its Superfan — and you can find him courtside at every home game the team plays. But, to hear him tell it, in many ways he is still in the midst of his personal process of assimilation.

When Bhatia immigrated to Canada from India in 1984 he couldn’t find work in his trade as a mechanical engineer, which was common for Indo-Canadians at the time. Unwilling to wait for government assistance until something came up, he sought work as a car salesman and remembers becoming the target of racist slurs in the process.

Luckily, a Chinese dealership owner took a chance on him and he repaid that trust, selling 127 cars in three months, which remains a record today. He was promptly promoted to manager of the once-struggling location and two years later he bought the dealership outright.

Even with his success, the element of race remained a factor in his life.

“I went to a phone-repair store and a white man was there talking on the courtesy phone to his wife. When he saw me he said into the phone, ‘OK, honey, I’ve got to go — my cabbie is here.’ I was wearing one of my finest suits, I was looking good. I wasn’t his cab, I was there to get my phone fixed just like him,” Bhatia remembers. “I learned then my people have to do more to assimilate and become one with the culture in Canada.”

The most visible avenue Bhatia chose was basketball. And he’s far from alone among Canadian immigrants in making that choice. According to the results of our recent survey of over 1,500 Canadians, watching basketball is a bigger part of the Canadian immigrant’s life than the national average: While three per cent of the total number of people surveyed said basketball is the sport they watch most often with their friends and kids, 10 per cent of immigrants said the same thing. In fact, basketball was the third-most popular answer among immigrants, after hockey and soccer.

Bhatia’s connection to the Raptors started simply by attending the first game in franchise history, and he was hooked.

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