Despite lobbying from Kansas City leaders, Toronto Raptors starting NBA season in Tampa

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – SEPTEMBER 11: Pascal Siakam #43 of the Toronto Raptors dribbles the ball during the first quarter against the Boston Celtics in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 11, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. 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 Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

TORONTO — From the sports world to politics, many voices in Kansas City tried persuade the NBA’s Toronto Raptors to at least start next season playing in the T-Mobile Center, but those dreams were dashed on Friday.

The NBA confirmed that the Raptors cannot begin the season in Canada due to health restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic, but they’ll be headed to Tampa instead of Kansas City.

“The Raptors worked diligently with public health officials at the local, provincial and federal level to secure a plan that would permit us to play our 2020-21 season on home soil and on our home court at Scotiabank Arena. These conversations were productive, and we found strong support for the protocols we put forward,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said in a statement.

“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.”

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes were among prominent voices pushing for NBA basketball downtown.

Kansas City and the T-Mobile Center were mentioned as a possible U.S. base for the team if the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hamper travel across the U.S.-Canadian border.

In a letter issued in late October, Mayor Lucas along with U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan) and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.) said Kansas City would make a great home for the Raptors.

“Kansas City sports fans are unmatched, already providing an avid fanbase for the Chiefs, the Royals, Sporting — and would be eager to extend that support to the Raptors,” the members wrote. “Our T-Mobile Center, a first-class arena located in the heart of downtown, would make a great home for the Raptors as they look to match last season’s impressive winning record.”

The delegates also noted Kansas City’s growing population, streetcar access for the T-Mobile Center and “food, attractions and entertainment for basketball fans of all ages.”

Kansas City was previously an NBA city, hosting the Kings until 1985.

While the Raptors are headed to Florida, a venue in Tampa is still being determined. The season begins on December 22.

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