Raptors to start 2020-21 season in Tampa

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The Toronto Raptors team bus, emblazoned with the words 'Black Lives Matter,' drives through Florida. (Raptors/Twitter)

The Toronto Raptors announced Friday that they will begin the 2020-21 NBA season playing out of Tampa, Florida, and not Toronto.

Team president Masai Ujiri released the following statement:

“The Raptors worked diligently with public health officials at the local, provincial and federal level to secure a plan that would permit us to play our 2020-21 season on home soil and on our home court at Scotiabank Arena. These conversations were productive, and we found strong support for the protocols we put forward. Ultimately, the current public health situation facing Canadians, combined with the urgent need to determine where we will play means that we will begin our 2020-21 season in Tampa, Florida.

We want to thank all levels of government and their public health officials for their dedication to this process, and for looking after the health of Canadians. We commit to continuing our work together, planning for a safe return to play in Toronto. And as an organization, we remain committed to doing all we can to promote and demonstrate public health measures to help combat the spread of COVID-19 in Canada.

So we’ll be away from our home and our fans for now. 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 Toronto Star first reported earlier Friday that the Canadian federal government had denied the Raptors’ requests to play their home games in Toronto, a setup that would have required frequent border crossings for the team and its opponents, all has case numbers from the COVID-19 pandemic continue to rise on both sides of the border. The Raptors had laid out a competent plan, but the optics and risks associated – especially after the federal government once again extended the non-essential border travel restrictions this week – were too large to overcome.

The 2020-21 NBA schedule will be split into two separately scheduled halves this year, with a break built in March 5-10. General manager Bobby Webster said this week that the team’s preference was to not split their season. If they change course, that would represent a natural pivot point to move back home, assuming case numbers, vaccines and other factors have trended in the right direction.

The NBA season is scheduled to begin on Dec. 22, with training camps starting around Dec. 1.

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