By Pete Baxter
Due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, having an NBA team operate out of Canada next season will be impossible. Along with the mandatory 14-day quarantine that the team would face each time they exit and return to the country, any visiting team would need a special exemption from the Canadian government along with a rapid COVID 19 test, which is still being tested in Canada.
Clearly, the logistics of having the Toronto Raptors play out of their home city next year will be impossible, so they will need to determine a temporary, secondary home for the 20/21 season. Assuming the December 22nd start for the season is a go, that gives the Raptors less than a month to find themselves a new home base before they will need to kick off training camp.
A few different locations have popped up in the public discussion/speculation around this move. Louisville got a lot of attention, a great basketball city with several high-quality college stadiums to its name. However, it has been reported that the team agreed not to move forward in Kentucky (possibly in response to the tragic Breonna Taylor shooting and trial, and because, well, its Kentucky).
Kansas City is the big name now being floated around, with an NBA-ready arena ready for action, and a sports-loving population of nearly half a million. But, come on, its Missouri (or is it Kansas? No one knows for sure).
However, I personally believe the best solution is considerably closer to their true home north of the border. If I have any say in the matter, which I clearly do not, I am pushing the team to play the 20/21 season in Buffalo, NY.
There are a multitude of reasons that I believe Buffalo provides the best answer for Toronto next season.
The easiest and most obvious reason is geography. Buffalo, the second largest city in NY with about 255,000 people but a metro area population of over a million, is less than a two-hour drive from Toronto, and by the far the closest major American city to the Raptor’s home. As noted, getting in and out of Canada is a logistical nightmare so the Raptors players won’t be returning to their Toronto condos after games, but being within driving distance could help maintain some remote level of normalcy. For the rabid fans in Toronto, they will not have to lose their connection to their team, knowing they are just a road trip away. If any live fan attendance is possible next year, Raptors fans with lifestyles conducive to a two-week quarantine could still consider catching a game for their home team.
Toronto and Buffalo already have a history of working together and sharing sports teams. The Buffalo Bills have already played several games at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, and it would be amazing for Toronto to return the favor and share the Raptors with their neighbors south of the border. There is clearly some crossover of fan bases in these two cities.
Buffalo has several possible locales for the team to call home. The most obvious is the Keybank Center, where the city’s professional hockey team the Sabres call home. With a seating capacity of over 19,000+, this would be on par with any other professional basketball stadium in the league. However, with Covid-19 still an active pandemic, this type of capacity will likely not be necessary this year, as even if live fans are allowed to attend at all, there will certainly be limits to allow for social distancing. Therefore, the Raptors could also look at playing in Alumni Arena, where the University at Buffalo basketball program plays. Alumni Arena has a capacity of just under 7,000.
Let’s also not forget that the city of Buffalo is not new to professional basketball. In the 1970’s, they housed the Buffalo Braves, an NBA team of the Eastern Conference Atlantic Division from 1970 to 1978, before they moved to Southern California and unfortunately became the Clippers. Bob McAdoo, Moses Malone, and Adrian Dantley all played some ball in Buffalo during this period, and Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay was the head coach for several years.
On a personal note, I can speak to the fact that Upstate New Yorkers need this. In Albany, I am equidistant from NYC and Boston (around a 2.5-hour drive either way), but feel no personal connection to any of the pro teams in either city. We have had a minor league TBL team in the Albany Patroons for a few different stints, which produced some legendary players and coaches in the past including George Karl and Phil Jackson, and won a TBL championship in 2019 (not quite an NBA championship, but its something). We have a hunger for basketball.
Even though Buffalo is a longer trip, Upstate New Yorkers stick together, and feel athletes in Buffalo are our own. There are obsessed members of the Bills Mafia from the far North towns of Malone and Potsdam to the outskirts of NYC in Yonkers and White Plains, through the central cities of Syracuse and Binghamton. There will be millions of fans in these far-reaching cities ready to join the “We the North” movement, and rebuild Jurassic Park in the States, even if just for a year. I know I will be making the 4.5 hour drive if given the opportunity (even though 4.5 hours on the New York State Thruway is comparable to being waterboarded).
So for all of these reasons, let’s make it happen, Raptors Nation. The city of Buffalo, and the massive region of Upstate, NY will welcome you with open arms.
Agree? Disagree? Couldn’t care less? Let me know! And as always, thanks for the read!