Nov. 20 (UPI) — The Toronto Raptors will begin the NBA season next month in Tampa, Fla., because of travel restrictions implemented by the Canadian government stemming from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“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,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said in a statement Friday.
Toronto had been eyeing other sites to hold home games for multiple weeks, including Sunrise, Fla., the home of the NHL’s Florida Panthers. But with the start of the upcoming NBA season quickly approaching, the Raptors were forced to make a decision.
The Raptors — the NBA’s only Canadian team — will now play their home games at Amalie Arena, which is home to the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
The NBA will release the first half of its 2020-21 schedule around Dec. 1. The second half of the schedule is expected to be revealed in January or February, and there is a chance the Raptors could return to Toronto at that point if coronavirus-related restrictions are loosened.
“We’ll be away from our home and our fans for now,” Ujiri wrote in his 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.”
Other U.S. cities that showed interest in serving as the Raptors’ temporary home for this season were Nashville, Tenn., Newark, N.J. and Kansas City, Mo.