Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) goes to the basket between Miami Heat forward Bam Adebayo (13) and forward Maurice Harkless during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. The Raptors are playing their home games in Tampa as a result of Canada’s strict travel regulations stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) goes to the basket between Miami Heat forward Bam Adebayo (13) and forward Maurice Harkless during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. The Raptors are playing their home games in Tampa as a result of Canada’s strict travel regulations stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

We The South: The Raptors settling into their Tampa home

The last time Tampa was on the NBA’s schedule prior to this season was in 2010,

Just like last year, the Toronto Raptors are opening the season at home, against the New Orleans Pelicans, and every available ticket for the game has been sold.

It’s exactly the same.

And entirely different.

The Tampa era — it’ll last until at least early March, maybe the full season, nobody knows for certain yet — of Raptors basketball formally opens Wednesday night, when the team plays host to the Pelicans. Unlike last season, when more than 20,000 fans crammed into Scotiabank Arena on opening night, Wednesday’s matchup is expected to draw a socially distanced 3,800, the maximum permitted right now at Tampa’s Amalie Arena according to the health and safety protocols put in to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

For the Raptors, it feels like home. It looks like home. It is home, for now.

“We are all creatures of habit. Familiarity is where we thrive,” said Teresa Resch, the Raptors’ vice-president of basketball operations and one of the guiding forces behind the team’s move to Tampa. “And the more familiar you can make it, the more comfortable you are, the better you are able to perform and ultimately that’s what we’re trying to do here is we’re trying to grow as an organization and perform our best.”

The Raptors and those who are assisting them in Tampa have tried to simulate the comforts the team has at home in Toronto, at least as much as possible. “We The North” signage is everywhere in the hotel that the Raptors will use as a practice facility, from the elevator doors to the ballroom wall behind one of the baskets. The court that the Raptors will use for games came from Toronto. And there’s a 2019 world championship banner swaying from the rafters — alongside the Tampa Bay Lightning’s retired jerseys for Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis — at the same end of the court as the Raptors’ bench.

The banner immediately caught the eye of Raptors coach Nick Nurse when he checked out the surroundings.

“Hey, the banner! It’s kind of cool,” Nurse said.

The Raptors needed a new home because the U.S.-Canada border remains closed to almost all non-essential crossings because of the pandemic. Many cities lobbied; Tampa wound up being the pick in a move that added to a hectic sports year for the city which has seen the NHL’s Lightning win the Stanley Cup, baseball’s Rays reach the World Series and the NFL’s Buccaneers land Tom Brady in a season where Tampa also plays host to the Super Bowl.

“The Toronto Raptors and their fans will not be disappointed here in Tampa Bay,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said

READ MORE: Raptors say three members of organization have tested positive for COVID-19

The last time Tampa was on the NBA’s schedule prior to this season was in 2010, when Miami and Orlando were supposed to meet there in a preseason game. The matchup wound up getting cancelled shortly before game time because someone used an oil-based soap to clean the court and things got slippery.

This is already off to a better start.

The Raptors are raving about the arena setup. The practice facility, constructed in a hotel ballroom — very similar to what the NBA put into use during the summer restart at Walt Disney World — has many of the same things that the team has in Toronto. The Raptor mascot is performing at games, the starting lineups are announced the same way, and Nurse can walk to work now, which he enjoys.

“They did a great job with the facility,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “For us, it’s a mixture of what we have in Toronto and what we experienced in the bubble. We kind of got brainwashed into practicing in ballrooms in the bubble and it became normal for us. This doesn’t feel all that different but it’s nice to see all of our Raptors stuff in here. They did a great job.

“There’s little things that we don’t have that we do at home … but the people who put this together did a great job.”

This endeavour is not without hardship.

There are about 60 employees who moved from Toronto to Tampa, some with families, some without. Some arena workers in Toronto, who obviously haven’t had their game-night jobs since March, still don’t have them. And the move is costing the Raptors a small fortune; the NBA has some experience with helping in the scenario of a team being displaced — the last time it happened was in 2005-06 and 2006-07 when the New Orleans Hornets played in Oklahoma City following Hurricane Katrina — and will almost certainly cover some of those costs.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he expects other team owners to support Toronto and what he called its “extraordinary circumstances.”

“One thing wonderful about this league is that while the 30 teams’ goal is to crush each other on the court, off the court they’re business partners,” Silver said. “I think it’s sort of the secret sauce behind the league’s success over the last decade in particular, sort of a generation of owners who are really fond of each other and want to work to support one another.”

So, for now, “We The North” has gone south. At least 17 times in the next 2 1/2 months, the Raptors will be calling a court in Tampa home.

They’re determined to make it work.

“It’s so cliché, but you have to make lemonade out of lemons,” Resch said. “We would love to be playing in Toronto and playing in front of Toronto fans but we’re not. We’re here in Tampa. And you know what? We’ve got a beautiful arena, there’s beautiful sun. There’s definitely lemonade.”

___

Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusNBA

Just Posted

The first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose in Canada is prepared at The Michener Institute in Toronto on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
One death, 39 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

There are 484 active cases of the virus in the region currently

File photo
Police respond to reports of suspicious visitors in Vavenby

Clearwater RCMP responded to 54 calls for service this past week.

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
65 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Overall, B.C. is seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases

FILE - In this April 19, 2021, file photo, Keidy Ventura, 17, receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in West New York, N.J. States across the country are dramatically scaling back their COVID-19 vaccine orders as interest in the shots wanes, putting the goal of herd immunity further out of reach. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
5 more deaths, 131 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

Those 18-years and older in high-transmission neighbourhoods can register for the vaccine

District of Clearwater meetings are open to the public. The meeting agendas and past meetings minutes can be viewed on the DOC's website. Every meeting has time allocated at the end for comments from the public.
District of Clearwater hires new chief adminstrative officer

The new CAO will arrive at the end of June.

Marc Kielburger, screen left, and Craig Kielburger, screen right, appear as witnesses via video conference during a House of Commons finance committee in the Wellington Building in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. The committee is looking into Government Spending, WE Charity and the Canada Student Service Grant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
BREAKING: Trudeau didn’t violate conflict rules over WE Charity

Federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion found that former finance minister Bill Morneau did violate the rules

Erik Christian Oun, who worked for the Coquitlam school district, has had his teaching licence suspended for half a year. (Pixabay)
Coquitlam teacher suspended after messaging students online, calling them ‘cutie’ and ‘sweetheart’

Erik Oun’s licence has been suspended for half a year, a decision made by the B.C. Commissioner for Teacher Regulation

An Israeli attack helicopter launches flares as he flies over the Israeli Gaza border, southern Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Singh calls for halt on Canadian arms sales to Israel as violence escalates in region

Government data shows Canada sent $13.7 million in military goods and technology to Israel in 2019

New homes are built in a housing construction development in the west-end of Ottawa on Thursday, May 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Budget’s foreign-homebuyers tax could bring in $509 million over 4 years, PBO says

Liberals are proposing a one per cent tax on vacant homes owned by foreign non-residents

A Canadian flag patch is shown on a soldier’s shoulder in Trenton, Ont., on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. The Canadian Forces says it has charged one of its members in the death of an army reservist from British Columbia during a training exercise at a military base in Alberta last year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg
Canadian Forces member charged in death of army reservist during training exercise

Cpl. Lars Callsen has been charged with one count of negligence

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks during a press conference in the rotunda at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Wednesday May 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. to use remaining AstraZeneca vaccine for 2nd doses

Health officials say the change is due to the limited availability of the vaccine

A youth plays basketball in an otherwise quiet court in Toronto on Saturday April 17, 2021. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is urging the federal and provincial governments to fight COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on proven public health policy interventions including paid sick leave, and education rather than punitive enforcement measures. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Provinces issued more COVID-19 tickets during 2nd wave: CCLA report

‘A pandemic is a public health, not a public order, crisis,’ reads the report

Capt. Arpit Mahajan of the Canadian Forces Snowbirds - Snowbirds 2 - shows off his ‘Jenn Book’ dedicated to Capt. Jennifer Casey. Zoom screenshot
Homecoming for B.C.-raised Snowbirds pilot training in the province

Capt. Arpit Mahajan flies Snowbird 2 in his first year as a solo pilot with the team

BC Housing minister David Eby. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Eby jabs back against Penticton mayor’s ad urging BC Premier to intervene in shelter dispute

Eby writes that Penticton’s ‘serious’ social issues won’t improve under leadership of the mayor

Most Read