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NBA India Games 2019

NBA India Games 2019: An all-access conversation with Toronto Raptors' superfan Nav Bhatia

Nav Bhatia
(NBA Getty Images)

Nav Bhatia needs no introduction. For over two decades, he has let his passion for the Toronto Raptors do the talking. He has never been late for tip-offs or left early during any Raptors' home games.

He quite often sums up his love for the Canadian franchise like this - "I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't womanize. I Raptorize. That's it."

Recently, he was named Canada Basketball's global ambassador, a role similar to what Drake has with the Raptors.

He was in India this past week and there was no way we would miss out on the opportunity to have a short sit-down the passionate man.

Yash Matange: Welcome to India. For the Indian NBA fans out there, could you tell us whether you will be returning to India in October for the NBA India Games?

Nav Bhatia: I'm really excited to be here. I'm really excited for the first-ever NBA India Games on October 4th and 5th.

I will be attending the games. So, yes, I will be traveling back to Mumbai.

I'm very passionate about basketball, so I'll travel wherever I have to, to make these things happen. It was something on my wishlist as well that the games would come to India.

Matange: Through multiple interviews, we already know that you have been a huge fan of the Toronto Raptors for over two decades. Could you put into words your feelings and emotions when the franchise clinched their first-ever NBA Championship?

Bhatia: You know what, it was a dream come true. It was on the wishlist and you always want to be a champion. You are one of only nine championship teams out of the 30 in the past 50 years, so, it's good to be a part of that champion league.

I think basketball grew during that Finals series. It grew so much that in Canada it has become very very popular. It was not just the people sitting in the arena watching the game, there were 10-15 thousand people outside on the streets watching on the big screen.

Matange: It was the first Finals played outside the United States and with that came the other festivities that follow the championships series. Is there anything more you could tell us about the vibe and atmosphere in-and-around Toronto during the Finals, especially the home games?

Bhatia: During Game 6, when we clinched the championship, there were over 2000 Canadians, who had come from all over Canada, to be a part of that game. They were all in their Raptors gear and cheering on the team. We celebrated there for an hour before we left the arena.

We sang our Canadian national anthem, so everybody was excited.

MORE: Nav Bhatia - the path to becoming the NBA's biggest superfan

This time, basketball, it was not just between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors, it was more Canada Raptors versus the Golden State Warriors.

Matange: The Raptors' championship and the NBA India Games have one thing in common - history. Could you tell us apart from the competition on the court, how the NBA playing preseason games in Mumbai could help the sport grow that much more in the country?

Bhatia: I was a kid when I left India, back in 1984. I decided to try this game (basketball) when the Raptors arrived in Toronto and the very first day, I fell in love with the game. The way they do the game for two-and-a-half hours is full of entertainment. You forget about whatever and you are in a different world and you are in a different zone.

You forget all your worries and you get so involved with the game. I got addicted to this game and I'm sure Indians, who will watch this game or be in the arena, are going to get addicted to the game.

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@nbaindia offices with my best friend #larryobrientrophy getting ready for the #nbaindiagames in October. @sacramentokings vs @pacers so excited to see basketball come to India #superfan #navbhatia

A post shared by Nav Bhatia Superfan (@navbhatiasuperfan) on

Basketball is the best game on the planet. This is the most entertaining game, give it a try. If you can't go to the arena, watch the game on the television. It is a very very entertaining game, even on television.

Matange: Over the past couple of years, basketball has seen huge growth in India. Satnam Singh has played professionally in the NBA and in Canada, Amjyot has played a couple of seasons in the G-League, multiple young kids get picked for the Basketball Without Borders camps. From your point of view, what has all of this been like?

Bhatia: Let me tell you, the day an Indian kid plays in the NBA, you will see this game breaking-out like crazy. You saw what happened in China when Yao Ming played. It took that country by storm and that's what is going to happen.

One day when that particular special kid comes out and plays in the NBA, the equation will be entirely different.

Matange: How do you think the Raptors did in the offseason?

Bhatia: We have a smart general manager in Masai [Ujiri] and I think he has done well with what was available. Of course, they waited for Kawhi and during that time, most of the good free agents were gone.

He had to what he had to do and he did it. I believe we are still going to be very competitive because we still have nine players from last year's team. Four key players are still the same.

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All day I've been asked what do I want to say to #kawhileonard and @greenranger14 . To both of them: you will both be missed. The heart you both played with. How you both embraced this city, this country and all the fans. The highlights you gave us that will be etched forever in our memories...that game 7 shot, that steal from lowry and following dunk, the many clutch 3's, the 18 points in game 3, the comeback defence, so many memories. But most of all thank you for your contributions to our 2019 NBA Championship team. You gave this fan a 24 yr old dream that many never experience. I could never be upset with any decisions you make for yourselves and your families because of what you have given to me, to the city, to the country. As much as I would love to have you both here again. For Kawhi's sake, i am happy you are home. I am happy for your family, I am happy you proved your critics wrong.To the other guy in the trade, Danny I am happy you locked in for 2 yrs in LA for some very good money. I am grateful for how much you did in our community. No matter where you play you will always be a part of the greatest NBA championship team of all time (no bias here 😁). Even without these two remember we are the defending NBA Champions. Our coaching staff are a championship staff, our organization is a championship organization. Masai did it once and he will do it again I have no doubt. No matter what team is on that floor we are the champs! So Kawhi and Danny when we see you next year we shall give you the standing ovation you deserve, once a Raptor always a Raptor, but when the game starts and you are shooting free throws at my end you better believe I will be waving that towel! With love, your NBA Champion @raptors Superfan, Nav Bhatia

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I think the only two significant players we have lost is Kawhi and Danny Green but I'll tell you one thing, we are going to come up strong again this year. We are the champions for the next eleven months. So, we are going to play with confidence.

We still have the same coaching staff, we still have the fans who are going to be more than excited being a champion now. As much as the media is putting out about us not making the Playoffs and all that, that's all good for me.

I'd rather be an underdog, be under the radar and surprise the world.

For more updates and stories on the NBA India Games 2019, you can follow NBA.com's page dedicated to the historic event.

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