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Raptors’ ‘Superfan’ wants to bring Sikhs into the mainstream with TEDx talk

Source: Metro (print and online)Date of publication: Oct 2, 2014
Nav Bhatia, standing in his office above the Mississauga Hyundai dealership he owns, tells a story about an encounter with a customer 30 years ago, when he first started as a salesman.

“He refused to deal with me, this white guy. He says, ‘I don’t want to deal with this Paki,’” recalls Bhatia. “That’s the way it was then.”

Bhatia is one of the speakers at this year’s TEDx Toronto. In his talk, he’ll tell stories about his life and about his passion, which is, in his words, “to bring the Sikhs to the mainstream.”

Most people who know him, know him as the “Raptors’ Superfan,” the turbaned man seen front and centre at every Raptor’s home game since the team was formed in 1995.

He now knows the players, coaches, refs and that other high-profile Raptors fan, Drake.

He’s spent millions bringing groups from diverse religions and races to the games to bond over their enjoyment of basketball. He’s also deeply involved in charities and community events and his ads are a fixture on billboards and AM radio.

Bhatia’s obsession with the Raptors has been well documented. He even has a catchphrase he uses to explain it to the curious: “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t womanize — I Raptorize.”

Thirty years ago, before the Raptors existed and before Bhatia was a minor celebrity, his coworkers were upset about the way that customer had treated him, he recalls.

Bhatia wasn’t.

Bhatia went to his manager and suggested he get a coworker, a “nice Englishman,” to make the sale, even though it was Bhatia’s turn — on the condition that after the man had bought the car, when he would come back to pick it up, the “nice Englishman” wouldn’t be there, and Bhatia would be.

When the man came back to pick up the car he’d bought for his daughter, Bhatia met him.

“I romanced him. I brought him a coffee—said, ‘Sir, sit down,’” recalls Bhatia. “I said, ‘I’m going to be delivering the car for you,’ I didn’t give him the choice. I took care of him so nicely, got him the car, got him the coffee, that guy sent me a few customers after that.”

To see that man’s opinion of Bhatia — and by extension Sikh people in general — change was Bhatia’s goal. “That was my winning.”

His goal with his TEDx talk is similar, to be a Sikh ambassador who spreads this message: “If we are a turbaned Sikh, we look different, we are different but our passion for everything in life is almost the same. In short, we have more in common than in difference.”

TEDx ‘opened eyes to the world’

TEDxToronto is a one-day conference held on Oct. 2, this year. Select delegates listen to a group of a speakers addressing a wide variety of subjects.

Video of the talks are available to the public online via livestream.

TEDxToronto is Canada’s biggest TEDx event. TEDx events are independent conferences modeled after the original TED, a conference series organized by the Sapling Foundation, and licensed by TED.

The TED slogan is “Ideas Worth Spreading.” Some delegates said TEDx ideas helped change their lives.

Toronto family doctor Sheila Wijayasinghe has been a TEDxToronto delegate in for the last two years.

“I’ve found it interesting to see the talks on medicine and innovations that are being done,” she said.

Generally, the talks inspired her to look beyond the traditional approaches to medicine, and a specific talk on using an app on managing diabetes led her to look for apps that are appropriate to use in her own practice.

“It opened my eyes to that world,” she said.

Chris Eben, before he became a delegate, attended a salon related to TEDxToronto hosted by The Working Group, where participants would discuss their “Big Ideas.”

“Part of the concept was not just to tell everyone your big idea, but by vocalizing it and making it public you were actually putting pressure on yourself committing to take some action,” he said.

In telling the group about his big idea — to take the entrepreneurial plunge on a software product — he ended up quitting his job and joining the Working Group as an owner within the next year.

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