TORONTO -- The Toronto Raptors will start the NBA season next month in Tampa, Fla., because of travel restrictions by the Canadian government stemming from the pandemic.
The Raptors had been looking at other sites for several weeks, including Sunrise, Fla., the home of the NHL's Florida Panthers. But with NBA training camp less than two weeks away and a season starting Dec. 22, the Raptors were pressed to make a final decision.
Instead, they will play home games at Amalie Arena, home of the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
"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.
An official familiar with the Canadian government's decision told The Associated Press there is too much covid-19 circulating in the United States to allow for cross-border travel that is not essential.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity and not authorized to talk publicly about the matter, said there's a chance that the decision could be reviewed next year.
The Raptors, the NBA's lone Canadian team, and the league needed an exemption to a requirement that anyone entering Canada for nonessential reasons must isolate for 14 days. The U.S.-Canada border remains closed to nonessential travel.
So, for the Raptors, it's now time for Florida to be home away from home again.
Toronto was the first NBA team to arrive in Florida last summer to begin preparations for the restarted season inside a bubble at Walt Disney World near Orlando. The Raptors began with a training camp at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, then went to Disney a couple of weeks later -- doing so because the virus and travel rules would have kept them from getting their team together in Canada.
And now, they're on their way back to the Sunshine State. The league will release the first half of the schedule around Dec. 1; the second half of the schedule is likely to come in January or February, and there is a possibility that the team -- for now, anyway -- could return to Toronto at that point.
"So we'll be away from our home and our fans for now," Ujiri wrote in his 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 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."