A woman runs across the road in front of Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Thursday, July 2, 2020. The federal government has denied the Toronto Raptors’ request to start the upcoming season at Scotiabank Arena, according to reports from the Toronto Star and CBC. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

A woman runs across the road in front of Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Thursday, July 2, 2020. The federal government has denied the Toronto Raptors’ request to start the upcoming season at Scotiabank Arena, according to reports from the Toronto Star and CBC. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Raptors won’t start NBA season in Toronto, plan to call Tampa home

TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors say they will start their season playing home games in Tampa, Fla., next month after being unable to come to an agreement with various levels of government to play at Scotiabank Arena during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Raptors had hoped to start the 2020-21 campaign at home despite rising numbers of COVID-19 cases at home and in the United States.

But the spikes in cases, the Canadian government’s restrictions around cross-border travel and the mandatory 14-day quarantine for people entering Canada proved too much for the country’s only NBA team.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri said the current public health situation facing Canadians, combined with the team’s urgent need to find a place to play, led to the decision to announce Tampa as a temporary home on Friday.

The NBA tips off the 2020-21 season Dec. 22, with training camps opening Dec. 1.

The Raptors join the Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps, who played most of their respective seasons south of the border.

“So we’ll be away from our home and our fans for now,” Ujiri said in a statement. “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.”

The 2019 NBA champions haven’t played a home game since a 99-96 loss to Charlotte on Feb. 28.

The NBA saw its 2019-20 season pause in March due to the spread of COVID-19. It resumed July 30 at a sealed-off “bubble” complex at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla.

Like the Raptors, the Blue Jays appealed to the provincial and federal governments to play at home but were denied. They relocated temporarily to Buffalo.

The 2019-20 NHL season also paused in March before continuing in the hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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