Salvatore Ambrosino

The National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Toronto Raptors are expected to tip off their season in Tampa’s Amalie Arena, according to a statement released by Raptors team president Masai Ujiri on Nov. 20. 

The Raptors will temporarily relocate to Tampa Bay after failing to reach an agreement with Canadian government officials granting their exemption from Canada’s current travel restrictions and a two-week COVID-19 quarantine mandate issued to travelers upon arrival. 

“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,” Ujiri said in the statement.

The NBA’s revised 72-game regular season debuts on Dec. 22, allowing stadium capacity at some level depending on local and state regulations. NBA training camps are scheduled to start Dec. 1. 

Toronto scrambled to find a temporary home in the U.S. following a last ditch effort for an exemption from Canada’s national 14-day quarantine mandate coming from away-game travel in the United States.

Besides Tampa, Ujiri mentioned relocating to cities Buffalo, Louisville, Kansas City, Fort Lauderdale, and Newark, New Jersey, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

The Raptors have 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 games on home soil and on our home court at Scotiabank Arena [in Toronto],” Ujiri said.

The Raptors aren’t strangers to Florida basketball. 

Following the NBA’s shut down mid-March, players from 22 teams, including the Raptors, arrived at Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports bubble outside Orlando to start and finish the 2020 playoffs over six weeks. Prior to that, the Raptors used Florida Gulf Coast University’s practice facilities. 

Amalie Arena, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning, has been at the center of a prospective hub-city since major league sports’ shut-down. The National Hockey League (NHL) also contemplating terms of return for its seven Canadian teams, now appears less likely in securing Tampa as a sports hub.

Presumably, Amalie will host both the Lightning and Raptor games if the Bolts are allowed to begin their season at home. The NHL still aims for a Jan 1. start.

Toronto brings championship talents like Larry O’Brien winning center Serge Ibaka, all-star power forward in Pascal Siakam and captain Kyle Lowry to the Sunshine State. 

Toronto beholds the only NBA team outside of the United States.

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