Ok, so maybe not technically a “new team” but the NBA and the Toronto Raptors have officially announced that the team will start the season by playing their home games in Tampa Bay instead of Toronto, due to Canada’s current restrictions on travel that would have made playing games against US-based teams almost impossible.
The announcement was made by Raptors team president, Masai Ujiri in a statement on 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,” said Ujiri.
The Raptors will play their home games in Amalie Arena, home of the current NHL-champion Tampa Bay Lightning and Lightning captain, Steven Stamkos, couldn’t be more fired up:
“ WE THE SOUTH” ? https://t.co/hVHlJKItrh
— Steven Stamkos (@RealStamkos91) November 20, 2020
Earlier this month, the NBA and the NBA players association had come to an agreement to start the next NBA season on December 22 rather than the following year, leaving Toronto with only a few months to prepare a plan for their home games.
A Canadian government official who spoke to ESPN anonymously stated that there is a possibility that the country’s health officials could review the Raptors’ request next year, however, nothing is guaranteed.
Before landing on Tampa Bay, the Raptors also considered Nashville, Newark, and St. Louis as possible sites to play until they’d be able to return to Toronto.
The Raptors now have one of the rarest distinctions in sports history as a team temporarily relocating their home games to another city. In 2005, the New Orleans Hornets played their home games in Oklahoma City following Hurricane Katrina, which eventually paved the way for the city to own a franchise of their own. In 2020, fellow Toronto sports team also temporarily moved their operations to Buffalo, New York to play out the 2020 MLB season.
Following their late-season/playoffs bubble experiment, the NBA is seeking to follow up on their incredible logistical accomplishment in having zero positive tests by allowing teams to play in their home arenas and following strict guidelines to combat COVID spread among players.
The NBA will release the first half of their schedule on or about December 1.