Calling Nav Bhatia the Toronto Raptors’ biggest fan is one of the year’s biggest understatements. He’s a staple at courtside and around the city, and a global audience recently saw him demonstrate his belief that the power of sports can unite everybody.

“I have never missed a minute of a game in 24 years,” he told CTV News. This included Game 6 of the NBA semifinals on Saturday, when the Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

After enduring the ups and downs that come with attending every home game since the team started back in 1995, his patience appears to have paid off. He’ll be present Thursday night for the greatest moment the Raptors have had yet.

He’s become such a fixture courtside that it’s not uncommon for Torontonians to stop and ask to take pictures with him -- as if he were a player on the team.

Bhatia feels “very optimistic” about the Raps’ chances of going all the way to the championship. “It’s going to be a long one -- a tough one,” he told one of his fans on the street Monday as he spoke with CTV News.

Despite his high profile and sunny disposition, the smile-prone fan has dealt with his fair share of racism.

Last week, a Milwaukee Bucks fan posted a racist tweet mocking Bhatia‘s turban. The user’s account was deleted after they were lambasted on social media by Liberal MP Raj Grewal and plenty of Bucks fans.

"I felt bad for him actually. I felt sad for him and, you know, two days later he called me and apologized,” Bhatia said, adding that the Bucks fan admitted he knew his comments had been stupid.

Bhatia said the next time he's in Milwaukee, he wants to take the repentant fan out for dinner. He said his belief that sports can unite everyone is why he forgave him.

That moment seemed to have cemented that Bhatia is as much of a Toronto ambassador as Drake, whose antics courtside have endeared him to fans in recent weeks.


'I was the only one with a turban'

Ask any Raptors fan about Bhatia and they’d tell likely be able to recite his story.

He immigrated to Canada from India back in the 1980s and despite being an mechanical engineer by trade, he could only land a job as a car salesman.

But he was so good at sales that he eventually bought the whole dealership and became one of the tens of thousands of immigrants in Canada who start or run their own businesses.

Bhatia’s history with the Raptors runs deep: He was one of 33,306 attendees at the team’s first game on November 3, 1995 in the SkyDome, which has since been renamed the Rogers Centre.

Back then, he noted there weren’t too many brown faces in the crowd. “I was the only one with a turban at the time,” Bhatia recalled.

But he loved the game so much, he made a point to keep returning.

And besides buying seats for himself, he has given away thousands of tickets to underprivileged children, including many from the South Asian community. He’s spent years working with the Raptors organization to organize multicultural nights.

"Those kids I used to bring from Hindu temples, they were 10, 12 years old then. Now they are about 30 years old and have good jobs,” he beamed.

His work has paid off. Last year, the Raptors were awarded the NBA Inclusion Leadership Award.

Looking back, Bhatia said he’s proud of the diversity he has helped facilitate and is exhilarated to see that the crowds at Raptors games are now some of the most diverse in the league.


Bhatia in action