Raptors won’t start NBA season in Toronto, plan to call Tampa home

Raptors won't start NBA season in Toronto, plan to call Tampa home
Toronto Raptors / Twitter
The Toronto Raptors will start their season playing home games in Tampa, Fla., next month due to Canadian COVID-19 regulations.

The well-known Raptors’ slogan “We The North” is about to become a little less applicable for the upcoming NBA season.

The Toronto Raptors will start their season playing home games in Tampa, Fla., next month after being unable to come to an agreement with the federal government to play at Scotiabank Arena during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A federal government source, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly on Friday, confirmed the team was denied.

The Raptors had hoped to start the 2020-21 campaign at home despite rising numbers of COVID-19 cases at home and in the United States.

The spikes in cases, however, plus the Canadian government’s restrictions around cross-border travel and the mandatory 14-day quarantine for people entering Canada proved too much for the country’s only NBA team.

The NBA 2020-21 season is slated to begin on Dec. 22, despite having just concluded the previous season in October after a multiple-month delay due to COVID-19.

Teams are prepping to come together sooner than that as well, with training camps scheduled to begin on Dec. 1.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri released a written statement that emphasized the current public health situation facing Canadians, combined with the team’s urgent need to find a place to play, led to the decision to announce Tampa as a temporary home.

“We want to thank all levels of government and their public health officials for the dedication to this process and for looking after Canadians,” said Ujiri in regards to discussions about the upcoming season.

“We commit to continuing our work together, planning for a safe return to play in Toronto.”

The Raptors join the Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps, who played most of their respective seasons south of the border.

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“So we’ll be away from our home and our fans for now,” Ujiri said in the statement. “They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. I’m not sure that’s possible for us – we love Toronto and Canada, and we know we have the best fans in the NBA. For now, I’ll ask you to cheer for us from afar, and we’ll look forward to the day we are all together again.”

The 2019 NBA champions haven’t played a home game since a 99-96 loss to Charlotte on Feb. 28.

The 2019-20 NHL season also paused in March before continuing in the hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton. There is more uncertainty surrounding the upcoming NHL season as to when it will start and what the format will look like.

With seven teams north of the border, relocation and travel become slightly more complicated.

With files to Canadian Press

Graham CoxGraham Cox

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