Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri announced in an an official statement that the team will begin its 2020-21 NBA season in Tampa, Florida after being denied by Canadian Government's health officials to play home games at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
"So we'll be away from our home and our fans for now. 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," Ujiri concluded the statement.
The Raptors aren't the first NBA team that has had to relocate for at least a portion of their season. For two seasons from 2005 to 2007, the New Orleans Hornets were forced to play their home games in Oklahoma City as a repercussion of the damage done by Hurricane Katrina. Known as the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets for that period of time, it remains unknown at the moment if the Raptors will integrate Tampa Bay into its team name in some way.
Toronto/Tampa Bay Raptors might look strange, whereas the Toronto Raptors of Tampa Bay rolls off the tongue a little more smoothly.
Nonetheless, a temporary relocation is underway and as the Raptors bring their winning culture to a new city, a recent string of success among Tampa's other professional sports teams leaves its interim franchise with a high standard to uphold.
For starters, the Raptors will reportedly play their home games in Amalie Arena, home of the 2020 Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Lightning have had the most success of any Tampa teams recently, qualifying for the playoffs in six of the last seven years. Their run to the Stanley Cup this past season was somewhat reminicscent of the Raptors title, too.
In 2017-18 the Raptors finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference, earning a franchise-record 59 wins only to be swept out of the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers. They wouldn't be denied the following season, earning the first NBA championship in franchise history. Similarly in 2018-19, the Lightning finished with the best record in the NHL, earning a franchise-record 62 wins only to be swept out of the playoffs by the Columbus Blue Jackets (ironically, also an Ohio-based franchise). They managed to break through the following season just like the Raptors, adding the second Stanley Cup to the franchise's trophy case.
Long-time captain and Canadian Steven Stamkos (Markham, ON) was only able to appear in one game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs because of a core injury. This allowed 23-year-old, up-and-coming Canadian star Brayden Point (Calgary, AB) to step up in Stamkos' absence, leading the team in playoff goals with 14. Stamkos was quick to tweet out his excitement for the Northern franchise to head South and it's a good bet the other Canadians on the Lightning's roster will welcome their home country's team with open arms.
Moving over to the MLB, the Tampa Bay Rays had missed the playoffs five years in a row prior to the 2019 season when they made it and lost in the first round. This past season, they bounced back in a big way, posting the best record in the American League en route to a World Series appearance where they'd come up just short of winning a title. They were the first Tampa professional team to reach out to the Raptors on Twitter, welcoming them to the city.
Budding superstar and rookie outfielder Randy Arozarena set the MLB Playoffs on fire, breaking the record for most home runs (10) in a single postseason and most hits by a rookie in a single postseason (29) while winning American League Championship Series MVP. That leaves some pretty big shoes to fill for the Raptors' first-round selection Malachi Flynn, who should get in contact with Arozarena in hopes that some of that rookie magic rubs off on the San Diego State product.
MORE: What does Malachi Flynn bring to the Raptors?
And lastly, there's the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have missed the playoffs in 15 of the last 17 seasons since winning the Super Bowl back in 2002. Even they've had a change of direction thanks to a jolt of winning culture in the form of a pretty good player named Tom Brady, who signed with Tampa this past offseason. The result of the Brady Effect: Tampa has one of the best records in the NFL so far, poised to snap the franchise's 12-year playoff drought.
While Raptors All-Star guard Kyle Lowry would be quick to remind you his Philadelphia Eagles last got the best of Brady in Super Bowl LII, the Bucs represent a recent resurgance for even Tampa's losing-est franchise.
Does any of that really put pressure on the Raptors to keep the success of their interim city going? Of course not.
Regardless of the team's location, with a core of Lowry, newly re-signed Fred VanVleet, All-Star forward Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and the reigning Head Coach of the Year in Nick Nurse among other pieces, the Raptors are sure to bring their winning ways South of the border to the Sunshine State for the start of the 2020-21 season.
The Raptors players will have the opportunity to trade in scarves for flip flops and the city of Tampa will get to enjoy the tough, gritty and hard-working team that Canadians have grown to love. Meanwhile, the North watches closely from afar for at least a portion of the year.
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