The Toronto Raptors are heading south for the winter — at least for the start of it.
The Raptors announced Friday that they would begin the 2020-21 season based in Tampa, Fla., amid concerns about the coronavirus pandemic’s impact in Canada.
In a statement, Masai Ujiri, the Raptors’ president of basketball operations, left open the possibility that the team could return to Toronto at some point this season. The Raptors are the only N.B.A. team based outside of the United States, and Canada has imposed strict measures about travel between the two countries. Cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. continue to skyrocket.
“So we’ll be away from our home and our fans for now,” Ujiri said in the 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 N.B.A. 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 team had been trying to work out a deal with the Canadian government so that it could play its home games in Toronto. But a spokesman for Patty Hajdu, Canada’s health minister, said “a decision was made to not allow the Raptors to play in Toronto at this time” based on advice from the federal public health agency.
“We are going to continue our dialogue with the Raptors and look forward to the safe return of N.B.A. basketball in the future,” Cole Davidson, the spokesman, said in an email.
The Toronto Blue Jays faced a similar predicament this summer ahead of the start of the Major League Baseball season, ultimately opting to play the majority of their home games in Buffalo, N.Y.
The N.B.A. season begins Dec. 22, with players arriving for training camps on Dec. 1.
The Raptors had been working with government officials for weeks to try to find a way to play games in Toronto this season. Ujiri even wrote an op-ed for the Toronto Star last week to make a public plea for his case. He referred to the lessons the team — and the rest of the league — had learned from playing out the remainder of last season in a bubble at Walt Disney World outside of Orlando, Fla.
“We’ve provided detailed proposals to governments about how we, and the teams that visit us, could play safely in Toronto,” he wrote.
For now, though, the Raptors will be based in the U.S.