Thanks to the coronavirus, Toronto Raptors will be starting their next season down in Florida.
In a statement, Raptors President Masai Ujiri said the team attempted to find a solution with the Canadian government that “would permit us to play our 2020-21 season on home soil” but to no avail.
“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,” wrote Ujiri.
Last year was an odd one for the Raptors. After going all the way in 2019, the team lost star Kawhi Leonard after just one year, still played great, had the season stop midway, were forced to finish it in an isolation zone at Disney World, and then were eliminated in the second round by the Boston Celtics. Now they’ll be starting their season, not in Ontario, Canada, but Tampa, Florida—a win in some ways (the weather) and a massive loss in others (it’s Florida during a pandemic).
Countless COVID-19 infections have been tied to the return of sports. In multiple leagues across the world, players, as well as full teams, have had to enter into quarantine after contracting the virus during a sporting event. Recently the NFL fined the Tennessee Titans $350,000 for their shotty handling of social distancing and mask regulations during practice and workouts.
The exact details of where the Raptors will be playing are unknown, but training camps open on December 1st, so they’re going to need to figure it out rather quickly. The CBC reports that public officials have said if the pandemic can be brought under control the Raptors could return home to Scotiabank Arena.
Canadian teams in predominantly American leagues have been forced to be flexible this year. The Toronto Blue Jays, who found themselves in a similar situation, played their home games out of Buffalo. The NHL, the only major league to have multiple Canadian teams, has been publicly mulling over forming an all-Canadian division to get over the travel headache when play is set to resume on January 1st.
In his statement, Ujiri urged Canadians to “cheer us on from afar.”
"So we'll be away from our home and our fans for now. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder,” he wrote. “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.”
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