Regardless of which team wins, however, he will continue to take pride in the welcoming, inclusive spirit of his adopted homeland, which he praises in this spot from casual-dining chain Tim Hortons, a long-time Raptors sponsor:
"For the first time, the Raptors are in the finals, and the whole world is looking at the seat [A12]," he says in the minute-long film created by ad shop GUT. "Some see an Indian. Some see a Canadian. Some see both. Some see a turban. I hope they see diversity and loyalty. I hope people see why Canada is so special."
The spot broke online Monday; it's unclear if it will air during the Finals.
Bhatia will be on hand Thursday in Oakland to cheer the Raptors on. If the Warriors tie up the series, he'll sit courtside at Toronto's Scotiabank Arena during Game 7 on Sunday. Amazingly, over the past 24 years, he's attended every single home game in franchise history. Counting the playoffs, that's more than 1,000 tilts—and he almost always sits in A12.
"This idea wasn't an official brief from the client. It was the result of a productive client-agency in-person meeting," says GUT creative chief and founder Anselmo Ramos. "The target is every Canadian and basketball fan out there, and everyone who believes in inclusion, diversity, hope and loyalty. There's a lot of attention on Nav Bhatia lately. He was a well-known figure in Canada. But after the Raptors made it to the NBA Finals for the first time, Nav started to be famous outside of Canada, as well."
Fleeing anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, Bhatia moved to Toronto in 1984, but initially found few employment opportunities. Shrugging off casual racism and ignorance, he worked his tail off in car sales and became a star performer. Today, the 67-year-old owns two Hyundai dealerships and has amassed a tidy fortune.
Bhatia attended the very first Raptors home game in 1995. Three years later, NBA legend and team general manager Isaiah Thomas officially proclaimed him a "Superfan." In 1999, Bhatia organized a celebration of the traditional Sikh and Hindu festival Baisakhi Day at the arena, buying tickets for 3,000 South Asian kids.
According to the NBA, "Since then, the events have become a tradition, with Bhatia routinely spending several hundred thousand dollars annually to bring together young basketball fans from all cultures and immerse them in the basketball community. These types of continued efforts led to the bestowment of another title in 2013 as Bhatia was named Raptors Ambassador for South Asians."
What's more, he has personally pledged $200,000 for projects in Punjabi schools so that girls in that region can continue their education.
"It's not a political idea at all," Ramos says of the spot. "Canada is a welcoming, inclusive country, and Nav Bathia is a personification of everything that's great about Canada. [And] Tim Hortons is synonymous with Canada: It's welcoming, inclusive, and all about the community. It's a unique case where the country, the brand, and the person's values are completely aligned."
Bhatia's a big Tim Hortons fan, too. During his 35 years in Toronto, "that cup of coffee with two creams and one sweetener has been with me through everything, and I am proud to hold it every day," he says.
It's time to give this dude free java and crullers for life!
CCO, Founder: Anselmo Ramos
Managing Director: Ricardo Honegger
Associate Creative Director, Art Director: Eliana Ferrer
Associate Creative Director, Copywriter: Jeff Hodgson
Senior Art Director: Giulia Magaldi
Senior Copywriter: Frank Garcia
Senior Producer: Cecilia Salguero
Business Affairs: Karen Murillo
Client: Tim Hortons
Global Head of Creative Excellence: Paloma Azulay
Advertising Lead Canada: Jana Goodbaum
Global Marketing Manager: Dibba Iran Parasti
Media Lead: Jenni McIsaac
Social Media Sr. Manager: Asif Houssain
Regional Marketing Lead: Chris Wakefield
Head of Marketing Canada: Markus Sturm
Chief Sales Officer: Ricardo Azevedo
Global Chief Marketing Officer: Axel Schwan
Production House: Spy
Director: Lucas Dabrowski
Executive Producer: Carlo Trulli
Producer: Matt Wiele
Director of Photography: Kris Bonnell
Editor: Mark Morton
Editorial House: School