“We The North” will have a decidedly Southern flair to start the 2020-21 NBA season. The Raptors on Friday announced that the team will begin its season playing out of Tampa, Fla., because of travel restrictions into and out of Canada due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The release, which came from Toronto president Masai Ujiri via the organization’s locked public relations account on Twitter, said the decision was made in the interest of safety for Canadians. Below is the full 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, Fla.
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 for you to cheer for us from afar, and we’ll look forward to the day we are all together again.”
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Ujiri’s statement did not clarify a timeline for the Raptors potentially returning to Toronto. Until that can be determined — or if — the team will play out of Amalie Arena, home of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning and AFL’s Tampa Bay Storm. The season starts on Dec. 22.
So, for now, just call them the “Toronto Raptors of Tampa.”