The news came like the lightning bolt the city has missed for so many months: The Toronto Raptors, 2019 NBA champions, would make Tampa Bay their home base at least at the start of the 2020-21 basketball season. With the Canadian government requiring a 14-day quarantine on their return from overseas, it would have been virtually impossible for Canada’s only NBA team to participate in the season as usual. Possible city names were tossed around, from Nashville to Buffalo (where the Toronto Blue Jays played the MLB season in early 2020), but just before Thanksgiving, it became clear that Raptors players preferred to spend their winter months in the Tampa sunshine.
Whether you’re an avid NBA fan or a total newbie, you may have a few questions about Tampa’s newest professional sports team. Are you good? (Yes.) Is that “Raptors” like the dinosaur? (Yes, too.) Can I get a seat at the court? (No). Read on for everything you need to know about the Toronto Raptors.
The Saint Leo Unversity campus in Pasco County where the Raptors held their training camp (PHOTO: Saint Leo University)
A QUICK BREAK FOR HOLY LEO UNIVERSITY
While it was surprising enough to many that the Toronto Raptors would play in Tampa, it was perhaps more intriguing that they chose Saint Leo University – a fairly remote location 45 minutes from Amalie Arena – to host their training camp. How did the Catholic university with 18,000 students in Pasco County even get on the team’s radar?
As most things go, it’s all about who you know. Saint Leo men’s basketball coach Lance Randall is friends with Raptor’s assistant coach Chris Finch and had worked with Raptor’s head coach Nick Nurse in an English basketball league many years ago, said Fran Reidy, Saint Leo sports director. When the team took people to Tampa to upgrade potential training camps, Randall showed them around Saint Leo the week before Thanksgiving, and a deal was struck.
“A couple of things made us attractive,” says Reidy. “No. 1, we were ready to give them exclusive rights to the building.” The athletics staff worked from home, the basketball team was using a different campus facility, and the students were supposed to be studying virtually with it for the rest of the semester the raptors were able to maintain their COVID-19 logs.
The university facility’s 10 baskets allowed players to work on individual or small-group exercises, while the balcony above the pitch allowed Boy Scouts or other staff not part of the team’s testing protocol to enter through a separate entrance and do the exercises could still observe from a safe distance. Raptors staff came in outside the camp to add team colors and logos to the facility, and Saint Leo staff cleaned any device touched between sessions (including the rims and back panels), with the facility fully antiviral fogging each night has been.
“They trained, did what they had to do, and left,” says Reidy. “It was exactly what they needed and we were thrilled to have them.”
“Hosting the Toronto Raptors was a great experience for Saint Leo University,” said University President Jeffrey D. Senese. “We were able to present our wonderful facilities and the wonderful campus to a national and international audience.”
“I think our athletes, especially our basketball players, were just thrilled that a professional team that won the 2019 championship kept enough of our facility to be used as a practice ground,” added Reidy.
TORONTO RAPTORS START LINEUP
Pascal Siakam (PHOTO: Toronto Raptors)
PASCAL SIAKAM, FORWARD
Siakam grew up in Cameroon and didn’t start playing organized basketball until he was 18, but he’s already a star on the rise. He won the league’s Most Improved Player Award in 2019 and was named an All-Star the following season when he led the Raptors in points per game. Most importantly, his nickname “Spicy P.” is.
Fred VanVleet (PHOTO: Toronto Raptors)
FRED VANVLEET, GUARDIAN
VanVleet always beats the odds. Last season, he earned more average points per game than any other player since the 2005-06 NBA season. Then, in November, VanVleet set a new NBA record for the largest contract an uncovered player signed when he landed a four-year $ 85 million deal to stay with the team that first saw him in 2016 had signed. VanVleet likes to say “Bet on you” on social media. We wouldn’t contradict.
Kyle Lowry (PHOTO: Toronto Raptors)
Kyle Lowry, Guardian
The six-time All Star is 34 years old but is still a team leader on assists, free throws and points per game. After the 2020-21 season, Lowry will be a free agent. At the time of this issue going to press, there were rumors that he (and his $ 30.5 million salary) might become part of a blockbuster deal. Outside of court, he gives back to Toronto and his hometown of Philadelphia through the Lowry Love Foundation, which he founded with his wife Ayahna.
The Toronto-born rapper is the Raptors’ most famous fan, and his constant court presence at Scotiabank Arena has been the source of numerous memes. He is their global ambassador, and together, Drake and the Raptors have donated millions of dollars to charities and youth basketball organizations in the Toronto area. Could we possibly expect a Drake gig in the Raptors’ adopted home?
NICK NURSE, HEAD COACH
The head coach of the Raptors started as an assistant coach with the team in 2013 and was promoted to top job in 2018. The following year he led the squad to the championship. In 2020 he was awarded the NBA Coach of the Year Award.
The NBA gives Toronto the league’s 28th franchise.
The Toronto team is running a nationwide competition to develop its name and colors. The owner group chooses the “Raptors”, short for “Velociraptor” (yes, the dinosaur) from 11 finalists. It is believed that the popularity of the movie Jurassic Park, released the previous year, and the hope that the nickname would appeal to young children who would grow up to support the team were main reasons behind the choice.
The team is formed as part of the Canadian expansion of the NBA along with the Vancouver (now Memphis) Grizzlies.
The Raptors play their first game at the Air Canada Center, now Scotiabank Arena, their signature home arena.
Raptors make their first appearance in the NBA playoffs. They’re blown out by the New York Knicks in three games, but their 87-80 loss in Game 3 marks the first NBA playoff game to be played in the Great White North.
Raptors win their first NBA playoff games.
Led by superstar Chris Bosh, the Raptors make it into the playoffs for the first time since 2001 and win the Atlantic Division.
Raptors win the first of three consecutive Atlantic Division titles. They have won their division six in the past seven years.
General Manager Masai Ujiri dismisses head coach Dwane Casey, swaps DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green and acquires Marc Gasol in a major upheaval for the successful but not yet victorious Raptors.
To make the Amalie Arena feel at home, the Raptors brought their banner for the 2019 championship (PHOTO: Toronto Raptors)
The Raptors make it to their very first NBA final, beating the Golden State Warriors 4-2 to win the NBA championship. They are the first non-American team to win the title and the first to win a championship in one of the four major professional sports leagues since 1993, when the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series.
Travel and quarantine restrictions imposed by the Canadian government to prevent the spread of COVID-19 prompted the Raptors to look for an American city to temporarily house them for the 2021 NBA season, which begins in December 2020 should.
NOVEMBER 20, 2020
The Canadian government denies Raptors’ plan to travel back and forth across the border as usual during the NBA season. On the same day, the team announced that it will open its season in Tampa, with the Amalie Arena serving as its home arena.
DECEMBER 1, 2020
Raptors open a training camp at Saint Leo University in Pasco County.
DECEMBER 23, 2020
The Raptors play their first home game at Amalie Arena against the New Orleans Pelicans (Tampa’s first NBA game).
Editor’s Note: The printed version of this story was sent to the press before Amalie Arena changed its fan rules. Currently, fans are not allowed to personally participate in the Toronto Raptors or Tampa Bay Lightning games.