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Toronto Raptors to begin season playing in Tampa Bay

The Convention Center in the waterfront area and skyline, Tampa Florida.

The Convention Center in the waterfront area and skyline landscape of buildings in Tampa Florida USA. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Universal Images Group via Getty

We the South?

Due to coronavirus protocols restricting travel from the United States to Canada, the Toronto Raptors will start the 2020-21 NBA season playing in Tampa Bay, the team announced Friday.

“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...,” team president Masai Ujiri said in a statement.

“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.”

Despite the growing number of coronavirus cases in Canada — and the spike of cases in the United States — Toronto Raptors had come up with a plan to play their home games in Toronto and avoid the 14-day quarantine required of people traveling to Canada. Essentially the idea was to have teams’ traveling parties be in a bubble while in Canada, only dealing with the Raptors and not being allowed out into Toronto the city. It was essentially the same plan the MLB’s Blue Jays proposed, and once again Canadian health officials did not want to take the risk (and create an exception to the rules everyone else has to follow just for sport).

Tampa Bay had been the frontrunner to be the stateside home of the Raptors in recent weeks.

The Raptors are part of the NBA’s Atlantic Division, along with Boston, Brooklyn, New York, and Philadelphia — all teams on the Eastern seaboard. With the Raptors in Tampa Bay, there was speculation the Raptors could replace Washington in the Southeast Division with other Florida teams such as Miami and Orlando, as well as Atlanta and Charlotte. Washington would move to the Atlantic. This would be a one-season change; when the Raptors return to Toronto for the 2021-22 season the divisions would return to normal. This was seen as a way to reduce travel. It’s also a significant change to tradition for one year that feels unlikely.

Toronto is a favorite city of many players, coaches, staff, and media who travel around the league. With all due respect to Tampa Bay, Toronto will be missed on the NBA circuit, even for a year.