Nav Bhatia becomes first fan to enter NBA Hall of Fame

Nav Bhatia has been “in awe” ever since he learnt he would be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.

Nav Bhatia has “a second finger ready for a second championship title [for the Raptors].” - GETTY IMAGES

Nav Bhatia is a household name in Toronto. Last year, the Raptors supporter became the first fan in the sport’s history to get a championship ring when his home-town team won its maiden NBA title.

And on Saturday, he entered the record books again as the NBA announced its decision to make him the first fan, and the first person of Indian origin, to be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.

Speaking to Sportstar from Chicago, the businessman-cum-philanthropist said he has been “in awe” since the news broke out. “This is not something you expected to get as a fan, so you can’t prepare for something this,” he said.

“When a kid plays basketball at a university, he dreams of playing in the NBA. Then, his dream will be to win a championship. And then, he’ll want to go into the Hall of Fame. And now this fat, turban-wearing sardar — who did not have any such dreams when he started following the team — will be in the same space as the biggest legends of the game!”

Investing in the community

The 68-year-old is known as much for his love of the game as he is for investing in the community through the sport.

Over the years, he has bought thousands of tickets to take people to games and help them fall in love with basketball. He has also invested in setting up basketball courts in backward areas as he wants kids to take to the sport rather than get sucked into substance abuse problems.

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During his 25-year long association with the Raptors, he has experienced several highs and lows. And last year, it peaked when the Raptors defeated Golden State Warriors to win their first-ever NBA title. With two months to go for the playoffs, the Raptors sit second in the Eastern Conference table and are in a good position to defend their title.

Nav is so confident of back-to-back titles that he has “a second finger ready for a second championship title.”

Helping Canada’s Olympics dreams

“There are 15 Canadians playing in the NBA, but the last time Canada won a medal [at the Olympics] was in 1936 — which was a silver,” he laments. “And we haven’t even qualified in 20 years!”

As a global ambassador for the sport in Canada, he now helps promote the Canadian Olympic team ahead of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament that will take place in Victoria this June. “Two weeks ago I went there, did several interviews, went to schools to promote the games and we have managed to sell 30,000 tickets so far,” he says, before adding, “And we still have four months to go.”

“This is all privately done. The government doesn’t fund us; it never has.”

And if Canada does qualify for Tokyo 2020, will he be there? “Definitely. I will go and stay there till we bring back a medal.”

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