Bhatia's bond with basketball

Bhatia's bond with basketball

Toronto Raptors' superfan Nav Bhatia believes India need just one player as a starter in the NBA for the sport to grow in the country.

"Once an Indian becomes an NBA starter, it'll be a different scenario," believes  Nav Bhatia, a life-long Toronto Raptors 'superfan' -- a title bestowed on Bhatia by the Raptors' former general manager and Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas in 1998 for his unbridled passion for the NBA club. 

India is all set to host two NBA pre-season games between Sacramento Kings and Indian Pacers in Mumbai in October. Bhatia believes the matches can prove to be instrumental in popularising the sport in the country.

"I don't think the people understand how big this is, NBA coming to India. We need only one Indian to play this. This is exactly what happened with China. in Yao Ming, they had one star, who played as a starter in the NBA," he offered. 

Bhatia's love affair with basketball began in 1995. It was also the year Raptors played their first official NBA game. He had bought the tickets out of curiosity after the franchise's birth in Toronto had created a massive hype about the sport in the country.

The connection was instant. "The game of basketball (connected me to the club). I decided to try two games in November '95 and fell in love with this most exciting game on this planet. Anybody who follows it falls in love with it. This is an addictive game," said Bhatia, the Raptors ambassador, who was in Mumbai to promote the NBA India Games.

It's been 24 years and after attending every single Raptors' game since '95, Bhatia has become the face of the club. "Its a part of my life. it's like a medicine for me. It keeps me going. Believe it or not, it has helped me to stay on top of my business also," he explained.

Bhatia owns two Hyundai dealerships and one Genesis store in Toronto. His rise to the top wasn't all rosy. The 67-year-old Sikh, born in New Delhi, moved to Canada in 1980s to escape the nation's political climate. He had a degree in mechanical engineer from a University in California but unfortunately found employment scarce due to his turban and beard.

When Bhatia finally found a job as a salesman in a Hyundai dealership in Toronto, he grabbed it with both hands, selling 127 cars in ninety days. It's a record that still stands and a few years later, he bought that store and there was no looking back.

Bhatia said his success was down to the team-building that he learnt from basketball. "Just like basketball is a team sport, so is business, you cannot do good business with just one person, the team has to do well. You can only be champion when the team is on the same page as yours.

"I relate to the game of basketball. And with luck or with god's grace, they (Toronto Raptors) are champions there (in NBA) and I am a champion of my business," he said.

Basketball still struggles for space in India. But with the establishment of the NBA Academy in Noida, things can change here, feels Bhatia.