Nav Bhatia, the ‘Turbaned Guy’ Who Became the Face of NBA’s Toronto Raptors, Inducted Into Hall of Fame
- He is a familiar figure to basketball fans, a fixture at every Raptors home game in his court side seats — and arguably the biggest cheerleader the team has ever had.
It was a strange 2020-21 NBA season for Toronto Raptors fans who were forced to watch their team from afar. But there was at least some good news for one Raptors fan, arguably the biggest of them all. Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on May 16, becoming the first fan ever to join the Hall.
As soon as the news broke, a jubilant Bhatia tweeted, “Today was a dream. In the greatest building basketball has, the name Superfan Nav Bhatia will be immortalized. There is now a turban and the first fan honored within Naismith Basketball Hall Of Fame. I am overcome with emotions today. I’m still pinching myself.”
Bhatia received the Hall of Fame honors at the opening of the James Goldstein Superfan Gallery in Springfield, Massachusetts. His championship ring and his distinctive turban are among the items displayed in the Hall of Fame; his court side seat and even the jersey first designating him a Superfan, given him by the team in 1998, are also included.
Bhatia is a familiar figure to basketball fans, a fixture at every Raptors home game in his court side seats — and arguably the biggest cheerleader the team has ever had. Bhatia has sat court side for nearly every Raptors home game—and many road games—since the franchise’s inception in 1995 (discounting the pandemic games, of course), when on a whim he bought two tickets to the team’s very first game.
Since that day, Bhatia has never looked back.
He’s become an integral part of Raptors lore, earning himself a spot in the team’s championship parade in 2019, as well as his very own custom ring. Bhatia’s enthusiasm for the Raptors is contagious. He and Drake are the team’s best-known fans, and Bhatia’s endless joy over the team’s success — and his unflagging support even when they are not in the playoffs —is an inspiration to all Raptors’ followers.
In a March 2020 Instagram Live Giannis Antetokounmpo jokingly called Bhatia the most annoying Raptors fan when Drake popped onto the stream to ask him a question.
As Bhatia said of his induction into the Hall of Fame to Complex, “I am taking every basketball fan with me.”
The Hall of Fame recognition, while unique, is not his first honor. Bhatia was given a 2019 Championship ring when the Raptors won it all, and now he’s balancing that ring with the new one given to celebrate his place in the Hall of Fame.
As Bhatia tweeted, “I have absolutely no issues in making this a regular occurrence lol. Honored and humbled to receive this ring from @baronchampionshiprings and @hoophall. I wear this with immense pride and responsibility to carry on spreading the game I love.”
Bhatia has joked that his devotion to the Raptors is an addiction — but in fact, it’s a gift.
Every year, he buys about 3,000 game tickets to give to kids in the Sikh community and many other community groups across the GTA. Bhatia moved to Canada from India in 1984 but faced many challenges working in the field of mechanical engineering as an immigrant. However, despite all odds, he was able to forge a successful career path in auto sales, later becoming one of the GTA’s most successful car dealers.
In 2018, Bhatia founded his own organization, the Nav Bhatia Superfan Foundation, aimed at uniting people through the game of basketball. The foundation helps to build and refurbish courts across Canada with the support of the MLSE Foundation. The goal of the foundation is to ensure that children of all backgrounds can come together and play the sport that Bhatia has fallen in love with over the years. “This is what basketball does—it gives us the opportunity to bring the world together,” he told Complex. “I love basketball. I love the Raptors. But for me, I’m using the game of basketball to bring the world together,” Bhatia told Complex last year.
In 2018, Bhatia also received a Royal Bank of Canada Top 25 Canadian Immigrants Award, an honor given to those who contribute to the Canadian economy, to Canadian society and to Canada overall.
There are about 400 inductees in the Basketball Hall of Fame and, prior to COVID, more than 200,000 fans visit annually.