'This is love': Toronto Raptors superfan lands in Victoria ahead of Olympic qualifier
Toronto Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia says he's inspired by the welcome he's received since landing on the island, and inspired also by the talent and passion for basketball he's seeing in the lead-up to this summer's tournament.
Anyone who watched the Toronto Raptors' historic NBA championship run last season would have seen Nav Bhatia.
The Toronto auto dealer-turned-Raptors superfan, with his perennial front-row seat behind the Raptors basket, became a celebrity in his own right. When the team finally won the NBA Finals, Bhatia even got a championship ring.
On Thursday, Victoria-area high school students got to meet the man in the flesh. A lucky few even got to try on his massive, diamond-encrusted ring.
Bhatia was at Oak Bay High School to help drum up some enthusiasm for the upcoming FIBA men's Olympic qualifying tournament in Victoria.
"Are you committed Victoria?" Bhatia shouted over applause inside the Oak Bay High gym. "I'm the community ambassador for Canada Basketball, but I want everyone in Victoria to be a messenger so that we can bring people here, all the fans from everywhere."
Bhatia was joined by B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming, shortly after the province announced it was providing $350,000 to host the tournament from June 23 to June 28.
“We’re excited to have the chance to watch some world-class basketball right here in our own backyard,” said B.C. Premier John Horgan in a statement Thursday.
“We’re proud to showcase B.C. to the world in the lead up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. This qualifier will give kids and young athletes the chance to watch and be inspired by some of the most talented basketball players in the world.”
Bhatia said he's inspired by the welcome he's received since landing on the island, and inspired also by the talent and passion for basketball he's seeing in the lead-up to this summer's tournament.
"I'm blessed," Bhatia said. "This is love."
Team Canada will tip-off against fellow Group A opponents Greece and China in the Olympic qualifier at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, while Uruguay, Czech Republic and Turkey vie for Group B.
The winners of each group will advance to the final, with the winner there qualifying for this summer’s Olympic Games.