From adversity to celebrity: How an immigrant went from cleaning toilets to amassing wealth and making NBA history - New Canadian Media
Nav Bhatia, the iconic Raptors superfan, has attended every Toronto Raptors home game for over 25 years. (Contributed photo)

From adversity to celebrity: How an immigrant went from cleaning toilets to amassing wealth and making NBA history

In a tale of perseverance and passion, Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia talks about his path from adversity to making NBA history and owning five car dealerships "in the best country in the world"

The life of Nav Bhatia is a Canadian success story unlike any other.

From facing persecution to being beloved by millions, and from struggling with employment to representing an NBA franchise alongside the likes of Drake, he embodies the idea that anything is possible.

The iconic Raptors superfan has certainly earned his title: Since 1995, the 72-year-old has attended every Toronto Raptors home game for over 25 years. With only one absence in 2021 due to a COVID-19 outbreak, he’s been a cheerful courtside presence whenever the team plays at Scotiabank Arena.

He was named the Global Community Ambassador of Canada Basketball in 2019, and he became the first NBA fan to be awarded a championship ring after the team’s triumph that same year.

Today he’s a household name in Canada and recognized by basketball fans worldwide, but Bhatia did not have it easy at the start of his journey, as he shared in an exclusive interview with New Canadian Media.

“I came here in 1984 and as you know, in India it was a very tough time for the Sikhs,” he said. “That’s when the genocide was happening and the Sikhs were being massacred, and there was no safe place for the Sikhs in the house or the temple. Their businesses were being burned down.”

After moving to Toronto, Bhatia was not met with the same love and adoration that he gets from Canadians today.

“I was a mechanical engineer, but I couldn’t get a job,” he said. “Nobody wanted to hire a Sikh with a turban.”

Even with his prestigious professional background in India, Bhatia was forced to do odd jobs to get by in Canada — he painted walls, did landscaping and cleaned toilets, before landing a job as a car salesman.

“It was the darkest time of my life in Canada, that day when I first went to start my job as a car salesman,” said Bhatia. “The other Caucasian salespeople were making fun of me, calling me [racial slurs], and that day, it was my darkest day.”

Bhatia says that his prayers are what gave him the energy he needed to face adversity head-on and succeed.

Nav Bhatia: “That’s when I started my thing and sold 127 cars.”

“That’s when I started my thing and sold 127 cars,” he said. “A record at that time, and still a record. Moving forward, I became the top salesman in the country, top manager in the country and now with God’s grace, own five Hyundai and Genesis dealerships.”

Today, as an accomplished businessman, Bhatia believes in sharing his success with others. He works with World Vision Canada, which supports girls’ education in impoverished countries through programs such as Rise Up Daughters of India,  of which Bhatia is an ambassador.

“I think poverty is the biggest disease in the world, but God has given us a way to solve that by funding it, by finding a way, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” said Bhatia.

“God has blessed me. I want to share it. I want to make sure I can impact the kids who don’t have this opportunity because I do believe every kid, especially the girls, deserves an education.”

He also heads his own non-profit organization, the Nav Bhatia Superfan Foundation.

“We’re building basketball courts so that the kids can play basketball and not waste their time and energy on sitting in the shopping centre or with the gangs or something like that,” said Bhatia. “We inspire thousands of kids every year. We make them feel as if they are an NBA or WNBA player, and we’re going to continue doing that.”

Today, fans across the world can tune in to any Raptors home game and he’ll be there, cheering the team on and hyping up the crowd.

His love of basketball has earned him many accolades. In addition to being named Global Community Ambassador of Canada Basketball, he’s an inductee of the legendary Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and his diehard loyalty to the Toronto Raptors earned him a championship ring in 2019.

He’s also the subject of 2021 documentary Superfan: The Nav Bhatia Story, featuring Raptors icons such as Vince Carter, Nick Nurse and Isiah Thomas.

Most recently, Bhatia published the 2024 bestselling memoir Heart of a Superfan. The book details his entire life story, from his early childhood in Delhi to how he earned his own courtside seat in Scotiabank Arena.

The aim of the book, he says, is to inspire readers.

“Somebody can read it in Egypt, somebody can read it in India, somebody can read it in Singapore and they can relate themselves to this work,” said Bhatia, who says anybody can overcome hardship and succeed as he did. 

Bhatia will continue using his platform and influence to help build a better world and a better Canada.

“We have some cracks in Canada, but still we are the best country in the world,” he said. “We are the envy of a lot of countries around the world, and we have got to continue working hard to keep Canada the best country in the world.”


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Amir Said is an award-winning journalist based in Calgary, Alberta. As a first-generation Canadian, he prides himself on his unique perspectives and lived experiences, which he applies to his work as a journalist. He can be reached on X at @TheAmirSaid.

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