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TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 16: The Toronto Raptors logo decal at center court before the game against the Indiana Pacers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on April 16, 2016 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

98.5 The Sports Hub staff report

With heavy restrictions at the United States-Canada border due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Toronto Raptors will have to set up shop in Tampa to begin the 2020-21 season.

“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 confirmed in a statement Friday. “We want to thank all levels of government and their public health officials for their dedication to this process, and for looking after the health of Canadians. We commit to continuing our work together, planning for a safe return to play in Toronto.”

And just like that, Tampa has claimed another 2019 champion.

Faced with a similar dilemma as the one that forced the Blue Jays to Buffalo this past MLB season, the Raptors had no shortage of potential options; Buffalo, which served as the temporary home of the Jays this past season, lobbied for the Raptors to follow their lead. The Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes wanted them to play in Kansas City. Nashville was at one point considered an option, and same for the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.

But in the end, the team with the ‘We The North’ rallying cry decided to go the complete other way for their 2020-21 start.

(The Bolts’ Steven Stamkos is right to use the ‘we’ there, too, as the Raptors will indeed move into Amalie Arena in Tampa, which is home to the 2020 Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.)

“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,” Ujiri’s statement read. “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 NBA is scheduled to begin the 2020-21 season on Dec. 22.

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