TORONTO — He is likely the the most famous dealer principal in North America.
Nav Bhatia’s international celebrity status as the Toronto Raptors’ superfan has eclipsed his success as the owner of the top-selling Hyundai store in Canada.
But his two worlds often intersect. Advertisements promoting his two Hyundai dealerships and his Genesis store depict a smiling Bhatia, with one raised index finger to denote No. 1, and the other hand cradling a basketball.
“He is fiercely loyal in every respect, from his family life to his sporting life to his faith and, finally, to his business,” said Hyundai Canada President Don Romano.
“Nav bleeds Hyundai blue. He has been offered many other franchises, but he refuses to accept them. He constantly reminds us that everything he has acquired in life came from Hyundai.
“His famous saying to me and our team at Hyundai Canada is simply, ‘I am your soldier.’
“This is our biggest dealer in Canada, but in his eyes, he is simply ‘our solider.’
FREEBIES AND PHOTOS
Bhatia’s fame has been on a steady rise since 1995 when the National Basketball Association launched the Raptors in Toronto. But it exploded when the franchise made history as the first Canadian team to clinch a spot in the playoffs and then win the NBA championship in June.
While the Raptors were beating the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors, the sports world became aware of Bhatia, donning his religious turban — he’s a devout Sikh — and sitting courtside. He signed autographs, posed for photos and did interviews with multiple media outlets, including ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“When I was in Oakland, I got a lot of love,” he told Automotive News Canada. “I got to take maybe 3,000-4,000 pictures with the Oakland fans. I was offered free coffee, free lunches, free dinners and [invitations] to stay with them, so it was an amazing experience.”
Even Golden State Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr congratulated Bhatia on the Raptors’ victory.
“Nav, we lost, it hurts, but I’m so happy for you because you deserve this championship,” Kerr said. “And I’m happy to see you as a champion because I’ve been seeing you over the ast two decades supporting the game of basketball.”
LEADING THE PARADE
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the team, chose Bhatia as the grand marshal to lead the victory parade through downtown Toronto because he represented the fans, said spokesman Dave Haggith.
“He’s nowhere near the role of [Raptors’] global ambassador and musician Drake,” Haggith said, “but he has got ties to the team and ties to the community and brings the two together.”
Bhatia’s parade turban carried the Raptors’ logo and the words “NBA Champions 2019.”
“I never dreamt in my dreams that I’m going to be a grand marshal of a two-million-plus-people parade,” Bhatia said. “There were people in the parade telling me their next car was going to be a Hyundai from superfan Nav Bhatia. It’s good, but I never hand out my business card.”