NAV Bhatia’s story has been one of inspiration, tolerance and determination. In 1984 his family fled a war torn India during the Sikh riots. He came to Canada in search of safety and a new life, the cost of which was racial discrimination. It all began when Nav went in search of a job, nobody would hire an Indian man with a turban and a beard.
Nav persevered and eventually landed at Rexdale Hyundai. He quickly realized to survive he had to be better than good. Within the first three months, Nav sold 127 cars which remains a record to this day. Fast forward years later: Nav now owns Rexdale Hyundai and Mississauga Hyundai, Canada’s number one Hyundai volume dealer two years in a row.
“I joke with my beloved Raptor’s, I have more rings than they do,” says Nav.
After continuously enduring discrimination, Nav decided not to get angry but instead to try to change the perception of Sikhs on the court he was familiar and known for; Nav asked the Raptor’s for help. Since 1995, Nav has never missed a Raptor’s game and has never been late for a game. In 1999, then-GM Isiah Thomas brought Nav onto centre court and designated him the Toronto Raptor’s “Superfan.”
Since then a man with a turban and beard has been the symbol of a billion dollar franchise. When Nav came asking for help the organization could not say no. The Raptor’s partnering with Nav created a Baisakhi and Diwali game whereby Nav purchases and distributes thousands of tickets per game to people of all races with a focus on the youth.
“I want the kids to integrate with each other at an early age so they do not have to endure the discrimination I had to,” says Nav.
Years later, Nav has held motivational talks for many corporations, attended many charities and events, has been a mainstay on TV, radio and print and had the opportunity to tell his inspirational story at TedX Toronto, perhaps the turning point in his quest to change the perception of Sikhs in the mainstream.
“I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t womanize, I only Raptorize. I challenge anyone, give me 48 minutes of your time at a Raptor’s game, I don’t care what colour you are, I promise you that your perception of Sikhs will never be the same again,” says Nav.
The journey has not been easy and is by no means over but Nav is relishing the spotlight and is utilizing it to inspire youth and to continue to push for equality. Many organizations are taking notice and one such organization, The World Sikh Organization (WSO) recently invited Nav Bhatia to Ottawa to tell his story and to honour him for his tireless efforts in changing the perceptions of Sikhs.
On June 3, the WSO held their 30th Annual Parliamentary Dinner Meeting in a room of Sikh notables and MPs including, Judy Sgro, John McCallum, Parm Gill, Andrew Cash, Rathika Sitsabaiesan, Tim Uppal, Jose Nunez-Melo, Ron Cannon, Kirsty Duncan and Brent Rathgeber, Nav Bhatia narrated his story and received thunderous applause and a few tears of gratitude. The WSO then recognized Nav for his efforts towards the promotion and education of the Sikh identity in Canada.
It has been a long journey but Nav is beginning to see the fruits of his labour.
“It has been over 30 years since I have been here in what I consider the best country in the world – Canada. Things have not been easy by any means but I feel the pulse of change, I feel the perception of Sikhs changing and I am proud to be a small part of this change. We still as a society have a long way to go but I am ready for the challenge,” says Nav.