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Canada's basketball superfan to receive red carpet treatment Sunday at Royal Theatre

Victoria is one of four cities selected to host a special screening of Superfan: The Nav Bhatia Story before it airs nationally on Dec. 3.
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Toronto Raptors Super Fan Nav Bhatia addressed a full gym at Oak Bay High in January to promote the Tokyo Olympics basketball qualifying tournament. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

The red carpet will be laid out Sunday at the Royal Theatre, which is perhaps fitting in the capital of a province sometimes described as Hollywood North.

Walking the red carpet will be the world’s greatest basketball fan, Nav Bhatia, which is also fitting since Victoria is considered a capital of the sport in Canada. It is one of four cities selected to host a special screening of Superfan: The Nav Bhatia Story before it airs nationally on Dec. 3 on CBC.

Bhatia will be on hand to walk the red carpet at 1:30 p.m. with the screening at 3 p.m. followed by a question-and-answer session at 4 p.m. with Bhatia and the producers. The event is free and tickets can be reserved at superfandoc.com.

The documentary chronicles Bhatia’s immigrant experience from leaving India in 1984, following the deadly anti-Sikh riots in the wake of Prime Minister Indira Ghandi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards, to becoming a successful businessman and Canadian folk hero as the first fan ever to receive a championship ring from a team in the NBA, NHL, NFL or MLB and the first fan to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Bhatia has never missed a Raptors home game played in Toronto since the team’s inception in 1995, also donating thousands of tickets over the years to under-served kids who would not otherwise afford to attend games.

“I have never come late and I have never left a game early,” he told the Times Colonist.

It was a streak that was only interrupted by the Raptors having to play their home games last season in Tampa, Florida, due to the closed Canada-U.S. border.

Bhatia knows Victoria from two previous visits. The first was to Oak Bay High School in 2020 where his celebrity preceded him and he addressed a packed gym.

“I came to this country with nothing 30 years ago. Everything I have is because of Canada,” he said that day.

Bhatia passed his Raptors 2019 NBA championship ring around freely as the Oak Bay students gleefully took turns wearing and holding it up. Bhatia says it’s Canada’s ring for all the fans: “Everybody in Canada is a champion because of the Raptors.”

Bhatia returned to Victoria over the summer as a special ambassador of Canada Basketball for the qualifying tournament for the Tokyo Olympics. At the height of pandemic restrictions, Bhatia was eerily among the only fans allowed into Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre for the Olympic qualifier, which otherwise would have been sold out.

With indoor sporting restrictions now lifted, there is no limit on capacity Sunday at the Royal Theatre for the screening of his namesake documentary. Just four months ago, the Tokyo Olympics were conducted in front of no fans. Now sports and entertainment events are the canaries in the coalmine of the re-opening of society as the pandemic winds its way to the endemic stage.

“I love Victoria and it’s amazing to be here supporting my country. We have a great national team,” said Bhatia last summer, of his privileged position of being one of the few people allowed into the Memorial Centre to watch the Olympic qualifier live.

But unlike what the Canadian soccer team is currently doing in its breathtaking run through 2022 World Cup qualifying, Canada’s NBA-loaded basketball team stunningly fell short on Blanshard Street and failed to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

But true fans are never deterred. Paris 2024 is there for the taking.

“That is my great wish — a basketball medal for my country,” Bhatia has said.

That has not happened in basketball at the Olympics since Victoria players Doug Peden and Art and Chuck Chapman led Canada to the silver medal at Berlin in 1936. If it does happen again, you can be assured Bhatia will be there sitting courtside and cheering on the national side.

The country that welcomed him — even if there was discrimination and pressure to fit in because of his turban and beard — is a country he is proud to call home. One basket, one red carpet, at a time.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com