Back in 1995, Toronto was abuzz with news of a new NBA expansion team. The squad was added to the Eastern Conference, officially marking the NBA’s push into Canada. With the 1992 US Men’s Olympic Basketball Team still fresh in the memory of many locals, it was a huge time to get into basketball.
The NBA is home to some of North America’s most colorful players. Names like Dennis Rodman are regularly seen on lists of the world’s most eccentric athletes, along with names like Metta World Peace, Deshawn Stevenson, and even James Harden. But there’s another famous NBA character in Ontario—and he’s not on the court.
It’s Raptors’ superfan Nav Bhatia, who missed his first home game in December of 2021 after first buying season tickets in 1995. For context, that’s a 26-year streak that totals over 1,000 games attended at the Scotiabank Arena.
So, what’s it like being one of the greatest superfans in the world? And how did it get Nav Bhatia things like a movie deal, a nod from the Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards from Canadian Immigrant, and even an NBA Championship Ring? Let’s take a closer look at the life of Toronto’s resident superfan.
Coming Up with the Raptors
Born in New Dehli in 1951, Bhatia moved to Canada following a period of unrest in Northern India. He and his wife settled in to life in Toronto in 1984, but the going was tough as Bhatia sought out work. Eventually, he became a used car salesman—in fact, Bhatia’s main job today is running Hyundai dealerships across the country.
But back in the 1980s and 90s, Bhatia and his wife were still slowly rebuilding their lives in Toronto. When news broke that the NBA would be setting up an expansion franchise in the city, Bhatia immediately became interested. What started as an interest in supporting Toronto and basketball became an undying love for the city’s new team.
Reaping the Rewards
Originally, Bhatia’s presence at the games went unnoticed. However, Bhatia’s undying love and passion as a fan quickly made him the subject of screen time at live games. He was often seen on the jumbotron to lead chants and rally the crowd—eventually, this translated to appearances on the silver screen, which made him a household name over time.
Bhatia wasn’t just any fan, but a direct representation of Toronto’s diverse population. This directly tied in with what the Raptors franchise was looking to do—build a name for its team that was inclusive to every single person in the city. Soon, the ‘We the North’ campaign looked to rally the entire country behind the basketball team just like they did when the national skating team won gold.
But Bhatia was there for every tiny victory and setback on the way to the big 2018 Finals win. He was there during the Vince Carter days, the Isiah Thomas days, the Kawhi Leonard days—up until to ongoing stretch for head coach Nick Nurse. All the while, Bhatia has supported basketball as a means to unite people through sports culture.
Setting the Superfan Example
Back in 2018, Bhatia created the Superfan Foundation, which spends up to $300,000 per year to send fans from across the country to Raptors games in order to build team culture and outreach. Later that year, the Raptors honored Bhatia by giving him an official NBA Championship ring—to date, he’s the only non-NBA member to be given the honor.
But in 2020, Bhatia was honored again by the NBA. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame was granted a superfan gallery, where Bhatia would be the first honoree. In 2021, news came that two different projects would star Bhatia: CBC Television documentary film Superfan: The Nav Bhatia Story and a biopic from Hollywood titled Superfan, in which Kal Penn will depict Bhatia.
Today, he’s a common fixture around Scotiabank Arena. He sees regular time with the players and staff and is often called upon to lead Toronto fans. His Superfan Foundation continues to bring Raptors basketball to new fans each year.