Jordan: 00:47 I could spend the next minute in change telling you about what the Toronto Raptors have accomplished by making it to the NBA Finals for the first time in their history. I could talk about the greatness of Kawai Leonard, I could talk about rotations and three point percentage, and usage rate, but you’ll get more than enough of that basically everywhere. I could also tell you just how amazing the country wide support for this franchise has been and why, even if you’ve never previously watched a ball go in a hoop, you still might have been caught up in the madness. I could do that, but I will let the team’s second most important fan tell you that instead.
01:51 Jordan: Yes, that was Drake, and no, he’s not the Raptor most important fan. That honor belongs to our guest today, and if you know who I’m talking about here, I don’t need to explain anything else. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, and you are wondering why exactly this basketball team with a gimmicky dinosaur name, and a history of futility, matters so much to a city, to a country, and to one man in particular. Well then, you are in for a treat.
02:29 Jordan: I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, and this is The Big Story. If you have ever watched a Raptors home game on television, you have seen Nav Batia. He is known as the super fan, he sits courtside under the basket. He screams, he waves towels, he cheers his guts out, and he has done that for every single home game since this franchise was founded 24 years ago. Nav, thanks for joining us.
02:54 Nav: Thank you for having me here.
02:56 Jordan: Can you tell me, because there’s been a ton of interest in your story and what it means to the Raptors and Canada. Can you start by telling me when you came to Canada and what life was like?
03:07 Nav: I came here in 1984, during a very dark time in the Indian history. There was a time once, there was a genocide with the sikhs, and I’m a sikh with turban and beard, you know? We are sikh, and ah we were being massacred. We had no safe place in our home, not even in our temple, and when you don’t have a safe roof on your head, everything else is useless. If your life is at stake, what is life about then? Right? So we left India in 84, one at a time. I was the first one; all my family came here. I was the first one and lucky one; me and my wife to get into character and basically started. I’m a mechanical engineer, but at that time in 84 Canada was not that open minded or enlightened, so I couldn’t get a job with my trouble and beard. So I did odd jobs, and finally I landed a job as a car salesman, and they’re also always paid a lot of fun about. But, you know, I knew that I have to work harder; I was called names like bad names…. towel head. You know all those, paki, all those names which are not good names. But you know that actually, in a way gave me some determination. I never argued with the people who called me those. But that gave me the determination that I got to be better than good if I want to survive.
04:32 Jordan: So what did you do?
04:33 Nav: I sold 127 cards in three months, and got not just the attention of those guys who made fun of me, I got the attention of whole Hyundai Corporation, and finally they moved me in to a; so I became a manager, and a general manager and they moved me into a dealership in Mississauga called Mississauga Hyundai, and the dealership was failing and ailing and, you know, they asked me, they said Nav you know, you are very good with what you do. Can you turn around this dealership? And, you know, it was a little bit attitude, you know, human being, you know, attitude that I am good, I can do it, so I did that. The very first day I went there I had a staff of nine people, and eight sales people, white people, quit on me. They didn’t want to work for me. They said no, we don’t want to work for a guy with a turban and this. So these were the times. They were tough times, but it gave me more determination. So what I did at that time, I decided to work extra hard, because I’ve taken a sort of oath to myself that I’m going to make sure that this dealership doesn’t fail. So I recreated it a team which was ok to work with a guy like me, and finally we were number one in 91. A few years later, we were number one in Canada, and once again, god was very good to me. In 95 the Raptors came, and I was excited because I was comfortable. I had a house, I had a job, I had a couple of cars, so you know, I was feeling good.
06:07 Jordan: Yeah, why’d you buy those first tickets to the Raptors?
06:09 Nav: You know I used to watch basketball or the tube…. American channels. You know, it was Chicago, it was Michael Jordan, it was Larry Bird, it was Isaiah Thomas, it was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, all those guys, you know, Dr J. Amazing, you know. So I said well let me try these two tickets, and I could only afford two at the time. I have more now, but I could only afford two at the time.
06:35 Jordan: They weren’t courtside back then?
06:36 Nav: No, no, no, they were not court side. They were a little bit further away, but I bought two, and you know what? I fell in love with this game, and it was an exciting game. Even during the time out, like for two and a half, three hours, you forget about everything in the world. You are right, just focused, and I was very focused. I loved it, every minute of it. I’ll come there one hour early, and I’ll leave when everything is gone. So I enjoyed myself, talked to various people and all that; made the loudest noise. I was the loudest in the arena, and then one day in 98-99 season, Isaiah Thomas, our vice president and general manager, calls me and says you’re going to stay in the arena. You’re going to stay here, I’m going to be…. I need you. I said okay. So he called my name in the half time, he took me to the Centre Court in SkyDome, and gave me a very special jersey with the dinosaur and number one super fan written on it, and he announced to the whole arena, this is our super fan. Man I was shocked, I didn’t have any idea. I was humbled, but I also said no, I made it now. I made it now, I’m the face of the Raptors, the new NBA… you know NBA. I’m the face of the NBA team.
07:50 Jordan: How did it feel to be in those crowds, and to be sikh like yourself in a changing Canada. What were those crowds like after you were named the super fan?
07:59 Nav: It was changing at the time, but still not, you know, it was… that was 99. So what happened is, I’m going to share a story which a lot of people know about who know me which changed me further, but in a good way. One thing is that when somebody calls me a name or somebody, I don’t argue you know, because….. I think it’s; their lack off knowledge is the worst thing, and sometimes they don’t know about it, they don’t understand that we can look different. We are maybe a little bit different, we wear different, but our passion is the same inside. 99.99 percent, you bring me a Jewish guy, Indian guy Sikh guy, Muslim guy, Buddhist guy, whatever guy you want to bring me, you ask them three questions that what does your religion as the principles, I tell you, everybody will be the same. Anyway, one day I was in the top of the world because I was the Raptors super fan, right? So I’m, you know, I had a little
08:54 Jordan: Little swagger?
08:55 Nav: Swagger, you know, swagger about it, you know… and I go to, and I was wearing and, you know, this is at my work, and I’m I’m going to my phone didn’t work, the mobile phone at that time. So I go to a repair shop and this guy is sitting on the corner seat with the curtsy phones, you know there used to be curtsy rotary phones at the time, and you know the old time you’re I don’t know if you were born and that time. So this white guy looks at me, and I’m the only one in the room. He looks at me, he’s talking to someone and says honey, I got to go. My cab is here. Oh my God, I said I’m the only one here, I’m wearing a… you know nice versace suit, nice versace tie. Nice….
09:41 Jordan: You own a dealership by this point.
09:42 Nav: Ya, I was a dealer, you know. But I said man, and I didn’t get upset at him, though. I don’t think it was his fault, I thought the fault was ours. Sikh’s, our religious leader, because they hadn’t done enough to integrate into the mainstream. You can’t stay at home, and then go out, and no. You’ve got to integrate. If your neighbor is there, you got to integrate with them. You got to be in that society into that so that they can understand you, and you can understand them, but the onice is more on us then them. That’s the way I feel. So…..
10:16 Jordan: Some people don’t agree with that.
10:17 Nav: Well, I think that’s our onice. We should go; I always feel go out of your comfort zone, always, even for, you know, let’s say who are here, I would say the white people or black people go out of your zone where you’re not welcome, and integrate.
10:34 Jordan: Was that what basketball was, to you a little bit at the beginning?
10:36 Nav: Yes. I mean… no, it’s started. I’m going to tell you that now, right now I was only entertainment looking at Michael Jordan come here and play, looking at all the big star play. I mean, it was amazing a fast game and you’re sitting like right there. But then on that day, I realized I got to do much more than that. If we want to, you know, make a better society, better community, better country, we’ve got to do more than that. I went to Raptors. I’m a crazy guy in that way. I always spend more than I make. I went and bought 3,000 tickets from the Raptors, and this is what you’re going to do, I said, I want to celebrate my new years in the arena, and those were the time I did my New Year’s that’s called Vaisakhi, and if you Google, you know I used to bring an elephant to hand me over the ball. Those other times; you know used to bring the ball and, you know, people used to love it and all that, and we used to celebrate our game in a traditional way, our culture in a traditional way, and I used to bring kids from Jane and Finch, I had kids from YMCA’s.
11:38 Jordan: I remember seeing clips of those.
11:40 Nav: Yeah, I bring kids from everywhere. Sikhs from the Sikh temple, from Indu Temple, from Muslim mosque. I used to bring the kids, and you know why I did that? I did that so that all these kids at a young age, you know, when they’re 10, 11, 12 they’re innocent. I wanted them to integrated at a young age. I wanted Jewish kids sitting next to the Sikh kid, next to the black kid, next to a girl. All those you know, everybody’s sitting together and doing one thing, cheering for the team that brings them together. They go next day to their home, to their family, to their relatives, and they say so and so was sitting with me via this basketball. We watched this we watched that, and you know what? That experiment, I did that starting in 99….. I did it every year since then. All those kids who were 12 13 14 year old at the time. In 2010 or 2013, 2014 they were 25 years old… they had a full time job. So they were able to buy the tickets, and now we are about 3500 of our people…. I don’t know the exact number; I might be wrong and here and there. But we have thousands of people who come to the game who are brown. They are sikhs with the turbans, because they’re doing well and they love basketball…. and that’s why, when you go to our arena, and I’ve been to a lot of arenas; our arena has the best look, and that’s why when Raptors, I don’t know if you know, Raptors have won the diversity award year after year after year for the last 10 years.
13:11 Jordan: It seems like this week with the Raptors in the final, people from the rest of the basketball world are kind of looking towards Toronto and you know, they see all the success, they see you, they see Drake. Tell me about first before we get to that good stuff, what it was like to be there every day courtside. This team had a lot of tough years.
13:33 Nav: Ups and downs, ups and downs.
13:34 Jordan: You were there for that whole stretch though.
13:36 Nav: Oh my god… I was, you know.
13:38 Jordan: Tell people who are just paying attention now how that was.
13:40 Nav: Well I’m not going to… welcome to the, you know I want them to. Welcome to this exciting game of basketball. Especially the Raptors, you know. But there were times when we only one sixteen 16 games. There were times when they were only hardly seven-eight thousand people sitting nine people in the arena. There was a time when people would make fun of us, the Raptors fans. I will tell you, I’ll go to a coffee shop and people will come to me and they say, oh your Raptors suck, oh your raptors are some even worse things. You know, they will tell me why you wasting your time? Why you doing this? Why you’re doing that? You’re wasting time, your loser, you’re this. Now you know, it has changed because we have been winning for the last four-five years, and thanks to all the, you know, all the players who have come before this, and uh set up and set us up nicely, and we are winning, and uh… but I’ve seen a lot of low times years, and I appreciate though everybody pulling for the Raptors right now. Not just in Toronto, but around Canada and around; I got a call from Australia, eh we are going to be watching it. I got a call from India, we are for the Raptors even though the game was going to come four in the morning, we are going to be up four in the morning and watch the game. So that’s what I you know; I like that, and that’s where I’m proud of the Raptors NBA. They are a very good corporation. They’re very inclusive, and I just feel that during the next few years, a lot of work to be done yet because there’s a lot of; I don’t just look at the Raptors Arena here, but there’s arenas like in Milwaukee, Memphis and some other places where there are a lot of other ethnic communities around the arena or in that area, but they don’t come to the game. I was surprised to be in Milwaukee where we have a good population of South Asians and that….. around the area. There were hardly 10-15 people of our community.
15:36 Jordan: Well you got some reaction in Milwaukee that might explain a bit of that. Tell me what happened.
15:41 Nav: Well, everybody knows now it went viral. You know somebody in Milwaukee, a fan of Milwaukee, put a not a good comment, he put a racist comment. It was the fourth game after they lost it, you know, and I; the next morning, I’m told that there is a racist comment about me, and I felt bad for the person who did it. I didn’t know him. I don’t know him still, but I; you know, I talked to him after that, but anyway, I felt sorry for him. I prayed for him because it’s not dated, but I knew that he was lacking something, like he’s never gone out of Milwaukee. He’s never seen a Sikh, but that still doesn’t give him the right to write like that because human being is human being. Doesn’t matter what color shade you are. So the next game was two days later in Milwaukee. I go to Milwaukee. I’ve been asked by Milwaukee station to talk to them. So I go there. They have a Jurassic Park also with 10-12,000 people with a big TV screen and all that. So they were very good new arena. So I go there, and I do the interview and I come out of the interview. People can look at me because it was like an interview outside… and, ah, I come out and there’s a lineup off Milwaukee fan guys, you know, huge guys with beer in their hand like this big, you know, a litre of beer in their hands and they want to take a picture. So they called me, and I guess this guy who wrote it ah, this tweet, saw this and then googled me and I think realized that he has done something wrong. So he approached me. He approached me and I wanted to talk to me, and I definitely wanted to talk to him, not because of any hatred. I didn’t have any hatred for him, I had actually prayed for him, so I talked to him for, like 10-15 minutes. He has a kid who’s 10 years old who plays basketball, and I asked him, do you want your kid to learn all these things? You want him to tweet like that? And he almost was weeping. He says, No, I’m a stupid guy. I’m so stupid I did that, and I couldn’t sleep, and I want your forgiveness. I said, that’s okay, everybody makes mistakes, don’t worry, we forgive and we move forward, and when I come next time to Milwaukee, I’m going to take you for a bite to eat and take you son for a game. Or, you know, get him some stuff from the players. I’m going to sort of… souvenirs from the players signed, some stuff and give it to him. He was shocked a little bit that I was saying that to him, but I’m sure he was able to absorb that later on, and I said, look, don’t kill yourself, don’t be cursing yourself because there is a good thing which has come out of this. He says what good thing came, I’m so upset, and this…. I said, look out of this negativity, you said you are a bigger guy than anybody because you had the guts to ask for forgiveness. You realize you did something wrong. We all are human, we make mistakes and look out of this negativity, we have changed it into positivity. We have become friends. Now you got to talk to other people and you’re going to explain the way…. They are good people, and they’re this, and this is how we did that, and that’s what I always do. Change the perception of the people in a positive way. Don’t say oh it’s a discrimination, or it’s that or that. Find a way, if you can, in a positive way. What if I would have fought with him and wrote something negative award him? It wouldn’t have; now atl east that person, I think, has realized that it is wrong.
19:18 Jordan: Does it ever blow your mind that you’ve become as big a celebrity as you have? I mean, well yeah… you’re right up there with Drake, with Jay Z, with Rhianna. All these people that get called out, your shown on every Raptors broadcast. Everybody’s talking about you this week.
19:36 Nav: Oh really? Okay, Well, it’s ah,
19:38 Jordan: Don’t act like you don’t know!
19:40 Nav: No, I mean, it’s a…. I’m still a little guy trying to make a living in a big city, you know? And I joke like that, you know? I mean, God is good, God has given me, and I’m able to…. you know, a lot of good things are happening with my little bit of fandom with the basketball, and I’m trying not to just make my ego up or anything. I want to use it to do some other good things, and one other good things which have been able to God has blessed me to do is to work with one of the best in the Christian organization by the name of World Vision. I’m the only non Christian I believe who a Sikh guy was their ambassador, global ambassador. So they came to me 2-3 years ago, two years ago, actually, two and 1/2 years ago, they came to me and said look, you know, there’s a poor neighborhood where the girls are not going to school. When their periods start the age of 11 they drop out of the school, they get married and have kids, and at 14-15 years old, they have two kids, and I’m a father of a daughter myself. So it touched me, and I also wanted to make sure that this is the right charity for me, and I wanted to make sure that most of the money goes into the project and not into the administration. So we did some due diligence, and we found that 85% off their money goes into the projects. So I said, yes, I will, and they gave me the budget that okay, it’s going to be $200,000 to build 60 washrooms in 20 schools, and we’re going to be able to have the girls go to continue their education after 11 years, and I want to be very proud and blessed to tell you that we have been able to finish that phase of 60 washrooms. Thousands of girls are going to school and they are going to be somewhere, someday. You know, there will be some teachers, principals, doctors and officers, army officer, police officer, pharmaceutical, all that you know, engineers, they will become. It’s very important for me. Education is very important. But for the girls, I feel if anybody…. any country wants to enrich themselves, do well, the girls have to be educated very important.
21:45 Jordan: I was kind of joking a little bit earlier when I said that everybody’s paying attention to you this week and you’re part of the story. But you really kind of are, and I wanted to ask you…. why do you think that your story of basketball fandom seems to resonate with so many people? I mean, even people in America now are reading stories that Canadians have told about you and how you came to be a fan, and it it’s touching something with them.
22:12 Nav: Yeah, but that gives, you know what? That gives the hope to everybody that they can do it. You know, if this guy can do it, we can be there too. You know I do sometime this… when I’m sitting on the courtside and somebody leaves early on a courtside and their two seats available; let’s say they go in the fourth quarter. If the game is a little bit too much differential, people leave even on those expensive courtside seats. So what I do is, or even my seat, I’ll go out upstairs and bring a couple of kids to sit on those seats. I do that so that they can experience, and they can have the bragging rights in the school the next day and it gives them the hope man I can do it, and I give them a little lecture. I talk to them like little 10 year old kid to a little kid. I talked to them and I tell them that hey you can do it, too. Work hard, make sure listen to your parents, listen to your teacher. So that’s what I do, and then I go to a lot of schools now talk to the kids because they have a lot of questions about me. They want to know how I did, how I do this, how buy these courtside seats and all that. Kids are kids you know they want to know, and I tell them in simple language, work hard. Listen to teachers, listen to your parents, and you can do this also one day.
23:25 Jordan: What should all the people from American media, American fans, big NBA sponsors. You know how everybody shows up for the finals? What should they know about Canada? About Toronto?
23:35 Nav: I think when they’re in the arena, and around the arena in the Jurassic Park, they will learn a lot. They will see it. They will see through it that this is the real society’s should be like, where everybody’s together. You know how much fun it is standing in Jurassic Park? 10,000 people? They’re coming, only there. They don’t know. People are standing and they don’t know each other. They don’t know each other. They’re standing, they’re cheering for the team, and wants that three pointer or the…. a` block happens or a dunk happens. They start hugging each other, cheering and hugging. How beautiful is that? I think on my tweet, which the guy did. I don’t know if you saw that Mark Cuban also tweeted.
24:15 Jordan: Owner of the Mavericks…..
24:16 Nav: Yeah, owner of the Mavericks. Amazing guy. Very amazing guy.
24:19 Jordan: And what did he say?
24:20 Nav: Well he said Nav is a legend, because against that, you know, and then Steve Kerr wrote it. That Golden State…. I don’t know if you saw that…
24:27 Jordan: People are sharing this story. That’s why we wanted to talk to you.
Nav: And it is…. right now it’s viral in the basketball community. All the players saw that and they’re all you know; I mean this is good actually in a way, because this will bring awareness. This is not needed, and if this incident off mine and if is this negative tweet about this guy…. tweet about me can bring a lot of people in to the happy mode into the into the learning mode, and respecting the other religions and other people as a human being, let it be. I’m ok to take that insult.
25:04 Jordan: Two final quick questions for you. First called the series.
25:08 Nav: Raptors in seven.
25:10 Jordan: Is Kwai Leonard staying?
25:12 Nav: I’ll answer you on July the 1st.
25:15 Jordan: Thanks Nav.
25:16 Nav: Thank you very much, and go Raptors go.
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