TAMPA, FL — As if the year hasn't already been thrilling enough for Tampa Bay sports lovers, the Toronto Raptors made the rumors official this week. The National Basketball Association team will start the season next month playing at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, home of the 2020 Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor couldn't wait to spread the news on social media.
"The Toronto Raptors and their fans will not be disappointed here in Tampa Bay. Not only do we have the Stanley Cup Champion Lightning, the World Series runner-up Rays and the powerhouse Buccaneers, we’re going to have a chance to watch the magic of the Toronto Raptors play right here in our backyard," she said. "And although things may look a bit different this season, we look forward to cheering you on. Welcome to the Sunshine State."
In addition to the success of these Tampa Bay teams, Tampa will host Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium Feb. 7.
In a statement released Friday by Raptors President Masai Ujiri, he said making the decision to move its 2020-21 season from Toronto to Tampa wasn't an easy one.
“The Raptors 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 season on home soil and on our home court at Scotiabank Arena," Ujiri said. "These conversations were productive, and we found strong support for the protocols we put forward. 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."
Although basketball fans would relish having an NBA team permanently planted in Tampa, Ujiri said the change of venue is only temporary.
"We commit to continuing our work together, planning for a safe return to play in Toronto," he said. "And as an organization, we remain committed to doing all we can to promote and demonstrate public health measures to help combat the spread of COVID-19 in Canada."
Despite the change in venue, he said he's confident Toronto fans will continue to support the Raptors this season.
"So we’ll be away from our home and our fans for now," he said. "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.”
Lightning Capt. Steven Stamkos, tweeted a welcome to the Raptors with a play on the team's former rallying cry, "We the North."
The NBA will release the first half of the schedule around Dec. 1 and the second half in January or February. The Raptors will play 36 home games against the NBA's 15 other teams. It's uncertain if all the home games will be played at the Amalie Arena or if restrictions in Canada will be lifted, allowing the team to return home to Toronto for part of the season.