The Raptors will continue to play home games in Tampa, Florida, for the rest of the 2020-21 NBA season, citing border restrictions and being “mindful of public safety measures” in Toronto as factors preventing them from returning home to play at any point this season.
“Florida has been really welcoming to us and we’re so grateful for the hospitality we’ve found in Tampa and at Amalie [Arena] — we’re living in a city of champions, and we intend to carry on the tradition of winning for our new friends and fans here,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said in a statement Thursday.
“But home is where the heart is, and our hearts are in Toronto. We think often of our fans, of our Scotiabank Arena family, and all those we are missing back home, and we can’t wait until we can all be together again.”
Toronto made the move south last fall, knowing Thursday’s decision was a real possibility. The Raptors haven’t played in Toronto since Feb. 28, 2020; they had just finished a five-game trip when last season was suspended for the coronavirus pandemic on March 11, then went to the NBA’s restart bubble at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, for the end of the regular season and the playoffs.
The Raptors spent weeks before the 2020-21 season working with the city of Toronto to try to find a way to play games at home, only to eventually have to relocate to the United States.
At the time, the Raptors said they hoped they’d be able to get back to Toronto at some point later in the season, and they said the decision to relocate to Tampa was set in stone for only the first half of the season.
It became official for the whole season Thursday.
“It took us a while to get settled in,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Thursday before Toronto played at Boston. “I think to pick up shop and go back and try to resettle in, kind of like you would at the start of the fall … we’re just kind of getting settled in, we might as well finish it out now.”
If the Raptors play their full allotment of 72 games this season and then go into the postseason this spring, it will mean Toronto will have played at least 100 straight games outside of Toronto.
“Hope we can get back there and start next season from Day 1, for sure,” Nurse said.
Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays went through a similar process last summer, negotiating to play games at home before eventually relocating to Buffalo, New York, for the 2020 season.
After starting the season 2-8, the Raptors are 10-6 after Thursday night’s 120-106 loss at the Celtics. They are 6-5 at Amalie Arena.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.