For the first time in history, Tampa Bay will be the home, at least temporarily, to an NBA franchise this season, due to travel restrictions stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic put in place by the Canadian government.
“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,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said in a statement Friday.
With the upcoming NBA season slated to begin on December 22, the team is expected to play at least the first month of home games at Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa, home of the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
However, on a fact-finding trip here earlier this month, Ujiri drove past the basketball courts at Julian B. Lane Park and said, “This is good. Tampa it is!” Local government officials escorting Ujiri and members of his staff told him that an actual, fully-functional indoor arena was available and he replied, “No, this is fine. The weather is beautiful and we’re from Canada so we hate to be a bother. This is perfect. You won’t even know we’re here. Unless you come out to watch us play, of course. If it’s not too much trouble that is. We’re sorry,” adding unnecessarily, “We’re Canadian.”
The Raptors were 53-19 during the truncated 2019-20 season, finishing second in the NBA’s Eastern Conference before being eliminated four games to three by the Boston Celtics in the second round of the playoffs. They won the championship in 2019, defeating the Golden State Warriors four games to two to claim the first title in franchise history.
“It’s been a few weeks since the World Series ended and Tampa Bay sports fans are thirsty for more winning,” said Tampa mayor Jane Castor. “In spite of never having hosted an NBA team before, Tampa Bay is a terrific region with a real passion for basketball. You can tell from the sheer volume of die-hard hoops fans who would probably turn out to watch college basketball games at USF if the USF Bulls weren’t a perennial shitshow.”
“But the Raptors are an elite-level NBA competitor! I don’t want to say we’re already planning another boat parade but we’re ready to have one”, she said.
When it was pointed out that the team’s stint in Tampa Bay is temporary, she replied in a heavily exaggerated Canadian accent, “Yeah, okay. Right. I’m sure they can’t wait to leave Florida and charge back to Canada in January. Sure. You betcha.”