In the past few months, Tampa, Fla. has become Titletown, U.S.A. The NHL’s Lightning have won their second Stanley Cup. Major League Baseball’s Rays came fairly close to winning the World Series, and just this past week, the NFL’s Buccaneers brought the city their second Super Bowl title. As if it couldn’t get any better, a visitor from up north has delivered Tampa something it’s never had before — NBA basketball, in the form of the Toronto Raptors.
The Raptors migrate south
The Toronto Raptors — at least for just this season — are leaving Canada behind. The team announced on Thursday that they will play the remainder of their home games at Amalie Arena in Tampa. While they have already played their first 11 “home” games at the arena, they had originally left open the possibility of returning to Toronto for the second half of the season.
This announcement should not come as a shock. The Canadian government has discouraged nonessential travel across the U.S.-Canada border since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Other professional sports teams across Canada have had to take similar measures. In 2020, the Toronto Blue Jays had to play their home games in a minor league stadium in Buffalo, N.Y. Major League Soccer’s Toronto F.C. played their home slate in East Hartford, Conn.
On television, you couldn’t tell the Raptors were playing in Tampa at first glance. As SportsNet reports, the team has done everything possible to make themselves comfortable down south, down to even shipping the exact same court they use in Toronto down to their new base in Tampa. Even the advertisements at Amalie Arena hawk Canadian services such as SportsNet, a channel that nobody in Florida can receive.
Could the Raptors add to Tampa’s title haul?
Given the circumstances, it was understandable that the Toronto/Tampa Bay Raptors started their 2020-21 season on a losing note. They dropped six of their first seven games and eight of their first ten.
However, as of late, the Raptors have turned things around. They’ve won five of their last six games, and are suddenly back in playoff contention. In all of their last five games, the Raptors have surpassed 120 points. Now that they know where their season is going, they could be a dangerous team going forward. It also seems entirely possible that the city of Tampa could host yet another championship event in the near future, even if it isn’t their team that’s involved.
Not to mention, the Raptors play in the historically weaker Eastern Conference. A record just below .500 is more than good enough to enter the playoffs.
Has there been a pro basketball team in Tampa?
The Raptors’ stay in Tampa marks the first time professional basketball of this scale has played in the city. Not only has the NBA not placed a team in Tampa, but even past competitors such as the ABA and CBA had forsaken the area.
There is technically a permanent pro basketball team in Tampa. The Tampa Bay Titans play in The Basketball League, a minor league where players earn $1,000 to $4,000 per month. Compared to that, watching a team like the Toronto Raptors — who won a world championship two seasons ago — will be a foreign experience.
Unfortunately, it will most likely stay a foreign experience for a while, as no fans have been allowed in Amalie Arena for Raptors games since January. The team has stated that they may allow limited in-person attendance again as early as March if COVID-19 cases decline in the area.