For the Toronto Raptors, this week has been all about turning grim games into winning outcomes.
And one Raptors superfan is savouring both his team’s sweet victory Saturday in the Eastern Conference final, and his own positive ending from a racist encounter with a Milwaukee Bucks fan.
The tweet was put on blast by MP Raj Grewal, who called on Twitter to deal with the issue.
“Hey @Twitter, this tweet by @KJB30 is racist and should be removed,” Grewal wrote. “There is no place for this type of language in the @NBA or on Twitter.”
The federal politician then extended a compassionate offer to the offender: “Also, I don’t know you @KJB30 but I welcome you to come to Toronto and meet @superfan_nav he’s one of the nicest guys in the game.”
Apparently, Milwaukee fans wanted Bhatia to know the tweet didn’t speak for them, because on Friday, Bhatia tweeted a message of gratitude following the Raptors-Bucks game in Milwaukee:
“Thank you to all the @Bucks fans who came up to me and apologized for words someone tweeted even though you didnt have to,” he tweeted. “I know we are in a heated series, but i want everyone to know, regardless of what one person has said. Milwaukee and its fans are incredible!”
Bucks fans flocked to the post to share their love:
The story might have ended there. But, Bhatia told HuffPost Canada the man behind the tweet got in touch to apologize.
“I felt really sorry, and I felt like he hadn’t seen the world at all,” said Bhatia, about first seeing the tweet. “He was a very simple guy who had never been out of Milwaukee.”
Bhatia said he was impressed the man had the “guts” to reach out and apologize to him, and that the two managed to work things out through a phone conversation.
“... A negative thing has changed into a positive thing,” Bhatia said.
So much so that the two have promised to make dinner plans if Bhatia ever heads down to Milwaukee.
‘When somebody goes low, we go high’
Bhatia is practically a legend in the Toronto sports community. He hasn’t missed a Raptors home game since the team started playing in 1995, and often travels to away games to cheer Toronto on too. Throughout his nearly 25 years of cheering on the Raptors, he’s accumulated quite a fanbase of his own.
Bhatia said he wasn’t surprised with the outpouring of support from Raptors and Bucks fans when he responded to the tweet.
“We are Canadians. We know when somebody goes low, we go high.”
According to his website, his goal is to “unite people of all ages and backgrounds through the game of basketball.” He also has a non-profit foundation that raises money to build basketball courts and camps for kids in Canada and around the world.
Bhatia had a “humbling” start in Canada. Coming over from India with a mechanical engineering degree, his first job in the country was as a landscaper. He then got his break working at a car dealership.
“The very first day that I started there, I was called the same names this guy put on Twitter,” he said.
Besides basketball, which he calls “the best game on this planet,” Bhatia said he’s learned to deal with discrimination through conversation.
“People were angry, and I told them not to be,” he said. “Make sure to keep communication open and convert it into a different thought process — that’s what we did.”
Bhatia and rapper/6God Drake have both been reppin’ Toronto hard in recent days, as the Raptors inched ever closer to the NBA finals.
Now, the team has made history by reaching the finals for the first time ever. The Raptors defeated the Bucks 100-94 in the final minutes of Game 6. They’ll face off against the Golden State Warriors.
And you can bet both Bhatia and Drake will be courtside, spreading the love.
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