The city of Toronto is hosting its first-ever NBA Finals game Thursday night, as the Raptors take on the 2-time defending champion Golden State Warriors at Scotiabank Arena. The game tips off at 9 p.m. EST on ABC.
There’s one person in particular who has been waiting for this moment for each of the franchise’s 24 years: Nav Bhatia. The Raptors superfan has “never been late, never left a game early” for 960 regular-season games and 50 playoff games according to USA Today.
The 67-year old Indian-Canadian’s courtside seat is worth over $7,000 according to StubHub. How has he been able to accumulate his $50 million of net worth to afford such a lifestyle? Here’s what you need to know.
1. He Owns One of the Top-Selling Hyundai Dealerships in Canada
According to Oye! Times, Bhatia’s Hyundai dealership in Mississauga was the brand’s number one dealership in sales volume for 2013, selling just under 2,000 cars. The dealership also was tops in the nation in 2014, and has been the best in Ontario the last five years per Automotive News Canada.
“The key to his success is his dedication. Period,” Don Romano, CEO of Hyundai Canada said. “Anyone who knows Nav knows how he commits himself to his passions, which include Hyundai and the Raptors, as well as his family, faith and charities. Most people see Nav at the basketball games. However, he invests even more time at his Hyundai dealerships in every area of the business, which is why he is one of Hyundai’s biggest, most successful dealers.”
He has been with company since 1984 reports Muhammad Lila in a series of tweets. He was with the Rexdale dealership first, and eventually did well enough to also purchase the Mississauga one.
“As a brown turbaned guy with an accent he couldn’t get a job as an engineer,” Lila states, “so he wound up working as a car salesman at dealership in a rough part of town.
“He sold 127 cars in just ninety days. It’s a record that stands to this day. He did it the old-fashioned way, by being honest (and yes, some catchy radio ads). He was so good that he eventually bought the dealership. Crazy, right.”
He took over the Mississauga dealership in 2003 as it faced bankruptcy. A decade later, it became nationally recognized in Canada. He spends about $200,000 a year on advertising, some of it paid for with funds from Hyundai Canada.
2. He Spends $300K Each Year to Send Send Mostly Brown, Immigrant Children to Raptors Games
According to Lila, Bhatia spends $300,000 annually to send Canadian children to Raptors games. Most of these children are from “brown, immigrant families,” but Bhatia wanted to unify children from all backgrounds around basketball.
Per USA Today:
“I went to the Raptors and bought 3,000 tickets and brought kids from a cross-section of the community,” he said.
Black, white, brown, rich, poor, Christian, Muslim, Sikh.
“I wanted all kinds of kids to sit together and integrate with each other so they don’t have to go through what I was going through at that time,” Bhatia said. “It was ‘How do I change that perception?’ “
According to Oye! Times, he’s known to distribute “3,000 NBA game tickets to locals and their children during Vaisakhi and Diwali every year.”
3. He Talked About His Life Story & Difficulty Being a Sikh on the Big Story Podcast
Bhatia studied engineering in India when he left for the United States in 1984. He is a Sikh, meaning he wears a Dastar, which is a turban that acts as an article of faith that represents honour, self-respect, courage, spirituality, and piety.
He is a native of Delhi, so after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, he needed to flee the country as 3,000 Sikhs were subsequently butchered in a pogrom. He tells this story at the beginning of the Big Story podcast by News 1130.
“I came here in 1984 during a very dark time in the Indian history. There was a time when there was a genocide with the Sikhs…When you don’t have a safe roof on your head, everything else is useless. I was the first one (in his family) and lucky one, me and my wife, to get into Canada. When I started, I was a mechinical engineer, but at that time, Canada was not as much open-minded or enlightened, so I couldn’t get a job with my turban and beard.
4. He Brought Bollywood to Canada & Has Appeared in a Film
He has shared his Indian culture with his fellow Canadians. In particular, he has brought the Bollywood movie industry to the Toronto area several times. Per Oye! Times:
Bhatia is also credited with bringing Bollywood to Canada with a screening of the film ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’ in 1999. “It became the first Bollywood film to run at six mainstream theatres in the Toronto area. Till then no Cineplex would touch an Indian film, but I changed that,” says Bhatia who has brought dozens of Indian films to Canada since.
He’s also brought the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, A.R. Rahman and other prominent Bollywood stars to Canada for live public events.
“Through Bollywood films and live shows, I have succeeded in telling Canadians that we Indians have a robust culture of entertainment and solid identity. My Indian identity is very important to me” says Bhatia.
He also has appeared in the documentary The Carter Effect, a film produced by that talked about the local cultural significance of former Raptors great Vince Carter. Fellow Toronto superfan Drake, as well as LeBron James, produced the film under the production company Uninterrupted.
According to Automotive News Canada, he received more attention than some of the athletes at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival red carpet event prior to the showing of the film.
“It was amazing. The team is coming from the other side, but the kids were running to me for pictures and autographs and to shake hands … It was really humbling.”
5. He Sells Merchandise of Himself to Raise Money for His Non-Profit Foundation
He started the Nav Bhatia Superfan Foundation to raise money to stop the same discrimination he faced during his transition to Canada. Per the foundation’s homepage, it’s a non-profit “dedicated to raising money to build basketball courts and camps for kids here in Canada and across the globe.”
He sells merchandise of himself, including T-shirts for men, women and youth, as well as a bobblehead and bath shoes. He does not make any money from the foundation (the website claims).
“This country has given me a life I could only dream of,” he writes. “The goal of this foundation is simple – to unite all of us from different backgrounds and faiths through the game of basketball.”