By Leo Haggerty

The Tampa Bay Raptors

Yes, my loyal followers, you are reading that correctly.  The newest professional team to the Tampa Bay area is the 2019 National Basketball Association World Champion Raptors.  That’s the good news.

Now, before you get all excited and buy your season tickets, read the rest of my column.  That will contain a bit of bad news.  So, let’s get to the particulars, shall we?

The move south from Toronto is not a permanent departure but only a temporary one.  It was all predicated on the fact that the Canadian government has mandated a 14-day quarantine to all individuals entering the provinces for what is deemed as a nonessential business.

If we go back to Major League Baseball when it opened its truncated 60-game regular season, the Toronto Blue Jays were dealing with the same travel stipulations.  That forced the team to relocate to its Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo.

After seeing that the Blue Jays had to relocate, the Raptors decided to forego trying to come up with a waiver that would allow them to play in Toronto.  Instead, they started searching for a suitable locale to call home for an extended period of time

With December 1st as a target date to open training camp as well as a regular season commencing on December 22nd, time was of the essence.  The Raptors sent out a delegation to examine possible sites for relocation.

After a thorough search of possible cities, the players voted to move to Tampa.  They preferred the warm Florida winters over such places as Louisville and Nashville along with Buffalo.

Still, the team took one last shot at staying put in Ontario.  A last-minute proposal to the Canadian government to allow the franchise, as well as traveling NBA teams, a dispensation on self-isolating was denied.

From what I can surmise from the reports being put out by the Raptors, they will play their home contests at Amalie Arena for at least through the beginning of March.  That’s when the league, who have canceled their traditional All-Star Game, will have a break from March 5th through March 10th.

This would be the earliest the team would pack their bags and head back north of the border if the pandemic is under control.  If the Covid-19 virus continues into the spring of 2021, the team can remain in Tampa for the duration of the campaign.

The tricky part of the move is what the NBA refers to as territorial rights.  Tampa Bay is considered to be part of the Orlando Magic sphere of influence and any local broadcast of the game on radio or television will have to be first negotiated with the Magic.

So, let me take this opportunity to welcome the newest professional sports organization to West-Central Florida.  Their stay may be short-lived but it will bring pro basketball to the area for at least the first part of the NBA season.

Here’s hoping that the scientific and medical community comes up with a vaccine that will eradicate the coronavirus soon.  That way, fans in the Tampa Bay area can witness pro basketball up-close-and-personal for at least three months or even longer.